Photo by Fili Santillán on Unsplash

Progress on EU legislation on smartphone repair proves effective in pushing manufacturers towards repair, but Apple is far from giving us the universal right to repair we need. 

As we reported recently, most likely from 2025 the EU will require smartphone manufacturers to make a range of spare parts and repair information available to professional repairers, and less components available to consumers as well, as part of its ecodesign regulation.
Meanwhile, Apple just announced an extension of its “self-service” repair programme to *some* European countries.

What’s new about it? In short: not much. In April, Apple launched a self-repair programme in the US, allowing users of the latest iPhone models to fix their devices themselves using genuine Apple parts and tools. Due to Apple’s history of holding repair hostage, there was lots of hype about this turnaround. Today, this programme has been made available in 8 European countries. 

“Right to repair activists on the other side of the ocean tried this out already and we can tell you that this won’t be extensive, nor practical or affordable. We need affordable repairs via access to all spare parts and repair-friendly designs, allowing for disassembly with tools that are common and not proprietary. As long as Apple will continue with software blocks to repair such as part-pairing, we can’t take them seriously” said Cristina Ganapini – Campaigner for Right to Repair Europe 

The good news is that it commits to providing *some* spare parts and tools, and the manuals are online and available to freely consult. We’re also happy that our old spare parts can be sent back to Apple, where they should hopefully be given a second life and avoid the dump. However, there seems to be possibly too much excitement any time that Apple concedes a tiny little bit on repair, especially considering they’re behind with making parts available in Europe. Other manufacturers – for instance Samsung – were providing parts well before Apple did.

“Basically, this move by Apple aims to promote a vision of repair where the manufacturer almost completely retains control on the product, setting high prices for parts, scaring consumers away from self-repair, while using software to limit use of third-party spares as well as the reuse of existing parts. This is far from the Right to Repair we need.” said Ugo Vallauri, co-director of The Restart Project

So why is this programme not the Right to Repair? 

Firstly, the scope of the programme is narrow, only covering iPhones 12 and 13 and Macbooks. As a point of comparison, iPhone 11 has been released on 20/09/2019, and can still be purchased new. EU legislation will very likely force manufacturers to give access to repair and maintenance information and spare parts to professional repairers and end-users for at least 7 years after retiring a product from the market. To be as ambitious as the EU legislation, Apple should give access to iPhone 7 parts too. 

The programme is also limited in its geographical availability. Customers in Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain, Sweden, and the UK will be able to purchase original Apple parts and tools. What about the rest of the EU? 

Second, it’s not exactly a bargain, and not for the faint-hearted. Prices of the replacement parts are on par with what you might pay an Apple-authorised manufacturer for repair. For example, a spare screen for an iPhone 12 costs 324€, while the same repair in an Apple store is 339€ (although customers can receive a small credit if sending back the broken part). An extra catch is in the price of the rental of the tools: although they can be rented for 59,95€ for the week, US repairers told us that they were charged 1200 USD on their card until the kit was returned, with the threat of it being withheld if not in exact order. We imagine the amount is similar for European customers, thus leaving little financial incentive to use this programme, as repairs in a shop cost about the same, with much less risk. 

The factory standard tools arrive in two massive pelican boxes, which is seriously off putting to consumers, not to mention environmentally unfriendly. The combined weight of the two boxes of tools required to perform a screen replacement in an iPhone is 35.8kg. This system could only work if Apple’s phones were designed to be easily repaired by users in the first place. 

Also, iFixit points out that “The manuals are written with these heavy-duty tools in mind, even though it’s hard to imagine that most DIY fixers would want to go through the expense or hassle of acquiring this much equipment.” The Right to Repair we want is products designed to be easy to repair, using commonly available tools. Also, Right to Repair Europe is concerned with the hyperbolic language used by Apple about the risks of self repair. “Luckily, fixers have been proving themselves very capable of iPhone repair with a simpler set of tools for a while now.” – as Elizabeth Chamberlain from iFixit pointed out earlier this year. 

One of the biggest issues with the programme is the long-standing manufacturer technique of part pairing and serialisation hindering repair. Under the programme, any new components requested will need the buyer to supply a serial number, which will be linked to the specific iPhone being repaired, limiting what can be done with spare parts. Also, after performing the repair, the new part must be paired or authorised by Apple via a system configuration. This represents a major shortcoming, and leaves no room to opt out. 

Part-pairing makes the job of refurbishers and repairers unnecessarily and deliberately hard. This technique blocks potential repairs daily and creates huge amounts of e-waste, which could have been avoided. 

As Elizabeth Chamberlain from iFixit pointed out when the programme launched in the US: “Requiring parts pairing essentially puts an expiration date on iPhones. When a refurbisher gets a functioning phone with no parts support, there will be no way for them to fully restore a product that needs a display replacement—even if they have an original Apple display from another phone.” 

Sounds like a lot of hoops to jump through to fix your phone battery yourself, right? All of this means that Apple still retains an overwhelming amount of control on our devices, and its deliberately complicated repair programme is more of an announcement than an initiative. 

Finally, a comment on Apple’s lack of proactiveness: “Apple’s move in the US followed the approval of repair-friendly legislation started by Joe Biden’s office one year earlier. This move in Europe happens just as a regulation on smartphones is about to be finalised. Given all the barriers remaining to independent repairs in their model, Apple’s strategy still feels like too little too late and a strategic way to advertise their products. If Apple was serious about repair-friendliness, they would have started these programmes years ago.” said Cristina Ganapini – Campaigner for Right to Repair Europe

Photo by Fili Santillán on Unsplash