An Apple-a-Day Keeps Repairs Away: Apple to set up DIY repairs store after pressure from Biden Administration

December 11, 2021

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3 min read

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What's going on here?

Following “right-to-repair” demands from campaigners, regulators, and the Biden Administration, Apple announces an online store selling parts for DIY repairs on iPhone 12 and 13 models and some Macs.

What does this mean?

Ever since the US tech giant Apple Inc. went public with its original Macintosh computer in 1980, it has held an increasingly tight grip on the details of its hardware and software. This is a strategy that many claim has allowed the firm to maintain its spot as the largest information technology company by revenue in the world, at $274bn in 2020.

Before Apple made the announcement, it made very clear that only a certified “Genius” could repair its devices, usually the Tim Cook look-a-likes hurrying between the shopfloor and the secret back room. The main reason given by the company for its paternalistic approach to repairs went along the lines of security and safety concerns by an uncertified “non-Genius” causing further damage to iPhones and Macs. But the unmentioned reason, which has become glaringly obvious following the $500m lawsuit against Apple for actively slowing down iPhones in 2020, is that keeping the repair parts and manuals private allows prices and revenue to soar. Currently, replacing the back glass on an iPhone 13 Pro Max could set you back $599. 

Mounting pressure from environmental and consumer campaigners, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and the Biden Administration has underlined the growing strength of the “right-to-repair” movement. Proposals for changes in legislation are pointed at the largest manufacturers of tech, cars, and even tractors. They aim to reduce the high prices of repairs, the obscene amount of e-waste (53.6m metric tonnes in 2019), and an anti-competitive domination of the market.

What's the big picture effect?

The reality is that most people probably aren’t genius enough to make DIY repairs at home, so the biggest impact for consumers is predicted to be a change in their throwaway habits. Additionally,  Apple’s announcement will open up a viable market for independent technicians and small businesses to set lower prices for repairs and work outside the strict control of the company.  

The demographic that makes up these small businesses is also an important factor to consider. In May 2021, the FTC, a regulatory authority in the US, submitted a report to Congress which highlighted the fact that a high proportion of independent technician businesses are black-owned, and repair shops are often run by individuals from low-income communities. So, the ability for them to finally gain access to genuine Apple parts has the potential to be transformative in boosting this area of the economy. 

Whilst the “right-to-repair” campaign has had success in changing laws in the UK and EU on appliances, and in the US with car repairs, its ability to effect change in the big tech world has been relatively unavailing. This year, around 27 US state legislatures eventually contemplated passing the “right-to-repair” bills, but it came as no surprise that the majority were not passed. After all, Apple, Microsoft, Google, and Amazon threw all their lobbying powers – and there are a lot of them – against the proposals.

Why has Apple changed its tone now? To some critics, its latest announcement indicates a manoeuvre that could ultimately stifle the vigour of the “right-to-repair” campaign. Evidently, the campaign was not willing to back down and with the Biden Administration at its side, Apple’s 180° turn could be seen as a simple way to ease the pressure of full-blown change in legislation. This is a trend which is being followed by other big tech firms including Microsoft, who pledged in October to facilitate DIY repairs and reduce its detrimental impact on the environment.

So, with big tech firms conceding to parts of the proposal, is the power still in their hands? And does the Biden Administration run the risk of standing down before the goal of implementing higher legislative standards is reached?

Report written by James Evans

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