Early next year, a previously impossible repair will be possible: you can buy an iPhone screen directly from Apple, use Apple’s repair guide (and tools, if you want) to install it, and have it fully work as intended, using Apple’s diagnostic software. And you won’t have to own an authorized repair shop to do it.
Apple’s landmark DIY repair announcement is a remarkable concession to our collective competency. Apple has long claimed that letting consumers fix their own stuff would be dangerous, both to us and our stuff. Now, with renewed governmental interest in repair markets—and soon after notably bad press for parts pairing—Apple has found unexpected interest in letting people fix the things they own.
Starting in early 2022, Apple will sell parts and tools for the iPhone 12 and 13 including the display, battery, and camera to individuals in the US. Apple intends to expand the program to more complicated iPhone repairs and to M1 MacBooks later in the year. You’ll be able to buy parts and tools through the ‘Self Service Repair Online Store,’ where you’ll also have access to service manuals and some version of their repair-enabling software.
This is huge news for everyone, but we’re especially excited at iFixit. We started in 2003, when cofounder Kyle Wiens tried to fix his iBook but was blocked from a service manual for it. If Apple follows through next year, it will be the first time the company has published iPhone repair manuals. (In 2019, they somewhat controversially published a couple iMac manuals written for Apple Authorized Service Providers, sparking internal disagreement.) We are hopeful that Apple’s DIY manuals will have the same information given to Apple Authorized Service Providers, but rewritten with customers in mind.
Nearly 20 years after Kyle wrote his first iBook manual while a university student, Apple is finally acknowledging that lots of us have the technical know-how to fix our own stuff.
This move invalidates many of the arguments Apple and other manufacturers have used against the right to repair. Liability? You understand the risks, and won’t sue Apple if you damage your device, or stab yourself in the palm with a screwdriver. Warranties? Although it’s illegal to void a warranty for a DIY repair, people worry. Apple’s program should tell motivated fixers that their warranty is intact.
Of course, there are significant caveats. This isn’t the open-source repair revolution we’ve sought through our fight for the right to repair. Apple is modeling self-service repairs after their infamously restrictive Independent Repair Provider (IRP) program. At the moment, Apple’s repair software doesn’t allow an IRP member to replace a broken part with one taken from another Apple device; it requires scanning both the serial of an Apple-purchased replacement and the phone itself, according to two IRP members we spoke with. That’s a major limitation for refurbishers and fixers who are accustomed to harvesting parts. No word yet on whether you can use Apple’s official software to restore battery health readings, TrueTone features, or remove “genuine” part warnings on parts you didn’t order from Apple, but it’s highly unlikely.
Apple is also not setting profits aside to fix more devices. IRP members have complained that their parts pricing is not competitive with other new-parts marketplaces, or even Apple’s own repair prices. Right now, a new iPhone 12 screen costs an IRP member about $235 if they send back a customer’s broken screen, or $270 on its own. Not coincidentally, an out-of-warranty iPhone 12 screen repair costs a customer $280 through Apple (an Apple IRP member told us those part prices had actually come down somewhat in the last six months). There’s a financial incentive built into both IRP and this self-service repair program to leave the fixing to Apple. But having public information on Apple’s preferred approach to fixing its hardware with free repair manuals is a priceless win.
Offering official parts to anybody who wants one, pricey or otherwise, could also justify Apple’s further locking down of parts through serialization. If there’s now an “official” way to avoid warning messages and a loss of features when you need to replace a battery, camera, or display, there’s less incentive for Apple to help those using third-party parts, or even those salvaged from other iPhones.
By controlling the parts marketplace, Apple can also decide when devices go obsolete. In the past, they’ve committed to providing parts to IRPs for 5-7 years after the release of a new device. Once they’ve got total control over parts availability, nothing’s stopping them from knocking a year or 4 off that commitment. Nothing’s stopping them, that is, except for right to repair legislation: in France, repair parts for smartphones are legally mandated to be available for 5 years. Currently, there’s no such mandate anywhere else—though we’re fighting to fix that, in the US Congress, 27 states, and around the world.
Apple’s announcement ends by saying that they are designing products for “increased repairability”—one of the rare instances where the company has used the word “repairability.” The company makes clear in its news release, however, that self-service repair is not a major new strategy for the company, but an allowance. “For the vast majority of customers,” official Apple repairs are the “safest and most reliable way to get a repair,” the company states.
So we’ll keep fighting for laws that keep Apple and other manufacturers honest. But we’re thrilled to see Apple admit what we’ve always known: Everyone’s enough of a genius to fix an iPhone.