It’s no secret that Apple has been a leading force lobbying against Right to Repair, so the company’s decision to endorse a strong Right to Repair bill in California was greeted with surprise.
“Hell freezes over,” declared Ars Technica in its headline.
I am less surprised. It’s increasingly clear that letting people fix things is the right thing to do — it cuts waste and saves money. Our public supporters now include everyone from the president to hundreds of local elected officials from coast to coast. With Minnesota signing the Right to Repair into law earlier this summer, it is also pretty clear that new laws are inevitable and companies will have to comply.
Fundamentally, Apple is doing the right thing, whatever its reason.
Repair enthusiasts might be asking: “Assuming California passes this bill, what does this mean for fixing my stuff, and is there a ‘catch?’”
Apple is finally releasing control of basic repairs
Apple has made previous overtures to repair shops, but those programs had serious faults that made them ineffective. Apple’s 2019 Independent Repair Program (IRP) was initially welcomed by many repair shops. Mitch Kramer, founder of the independent repair shop Fixco in Bellingham, Washington, decided to sign up for the IRP program, so he could order parts directly from Apple.
After he filled out the initial application, the company responded with a list of requests for information and other requirements. “They wanted all my customer information … and they could audit me to see if I had aftermarket parts,” recalls Kramer. A leaked copy of the onerous contract highlighted the level of control the company sought just to sell parts.
At the end, Kramer decided it was just not reasonable or possible to sign the contract. “It was a P.R. stunt … There is no way I wanted Apple to control my independent shop.”
The intent to exert that kind of control seems to have faded.
If California’s repair law passes, it’s RIP, IRP
The California Right to Repair legislation requires far more from the company than the IRP program provides. The bill would require Apple and other manufacturers of consumer electronics to provide all parts, tools and information they make available for their authorized shops to independent shops and owners. In the case that a company doesn’t have authorized repair partners, any repair materials they use themselves must be shared. Apple’s support likely means we can get the bill over the finish line.
“There was no way I could sign up for IRP,” said Chad Johansen of NH iPhone repair, which has four locations. “And now, I won’t need to. I’m really excited about the progress we’ve made on Right to Repair.”
“It’s definitely a win.”
For Kramer, the timing might be perfect. In his small community of Bellingham, the only nearby Apple authorized repair shop had already announced it was closing. “It was just me for 11 years, and now I’ve hired four people,” said Kramer. He is seeing steady growth in repair requests.
He loves being able to keep his community up and running — and more focus on repair means more customers. If the bill passes, Kramer will be able to access all the service manuals, spare parts and repair software tools that when he lacked them, made it difficult to conduct many repairs on Apple products.
Johansen is especially looking forward to being able to use Apple’s software tools, which are increasingly necessary to complete even basic repairs, such as replacing a screen or battery.
“For a local shop like mine, screens and batteries are a large part of what we do everyday. Getting that? It’s definitely a win,” Johansen said.
We get what Apple authorized shops get. Is that good enough?
One of the main criticisms of Apple’s repair programs is that Apple supports a very limited number of repairs. For example, an Apple lawyer told Congress in 2019 it only supported four different repairs on iPhones at that time — replacing the camera, screen, battery and speakers (see Apple’s answer to question 22). We surveyed independent repairs soon after that letter was released, and found that nearly 4 out of 5 independent shops offered a wider array of repairs.
Additionally, Apple often requires its technicians to fully replace all components which could be damaged, even if they are still working. This leads to examples such as when a reporter took a laptop to the Apple store and was quoted $1,200 to $1,900 for a repair that popular YouTube repair technician Louis Rossmann did in under a minute, and said he wouldn’t normally charge for.
It’s not clear whether Apple will only support replacing large, expensive components, or will also support repair to smaller components — which it could do by providing access to smaller computer chips and offering detailed circuit board schematics to technicians.
We hope that Apple will make those materials available. At the end of the day, whatever will make it more likely that people fix things, Right to Repair advocates are going to push for that to be made available. We aren’t stopping here.
We don’t have to tolerate unfixable products from anybody.
For my part, I believe that the legislation in California is strong and that it should fix many problems we have in repairing products. That’s good for the planet and cuts electronic waste and the pollution emitted while making new gadgets. It will also save people money and support local repair shops.
We live surrounded by disposable electronics. It is unsustainable and just absurd. Any progress away from that sad state of affairs is welcome, but we have more work to do. Apple isn’t the only company out there that could make an outsized impact by changing its policies. Take Microsoft: Some 400 million computers in use today can’t upgrade to Windows 11, which means that when Microsoft stops providing security updates for Windows 10 in 2025, those computers will either be insecure or pushed into the waste stream. Or Google: Chromebooks have extremely short useful lives thanks to predetermined software expiration dates — you can actually buy NEW Chromebooks which are already expired and ineligible for security support!
The more people know about the Right to Repair, the less they are willing to tolerate obstacles to repair or any companies that build products with premature obsolescence as a feature. It isn’t easy to change the way the biggest companies in the world operate, but as this Apple news shows, it’s not impossible either.
We know what we want. As Mitch Kramer told me, “It’s real simple: Just let us fix stuff for my community.”
Senior Director, Campaign for the Right to Repair, PIRG
Nathan leads U.S. PIRG’s Right to Repair campaign, working to pass legislation that will prevent companies from blocking consumers’ ability to fix their own electronics. Nathan lives in Arlington, Massachusetts, with his wife and two children.