Right of repair has long been an issue in the tech world. Things break, expensive things more often than not, and if those things are Apple products, you’re usually sh*t out of luck if you just want to fix a minor issue and not have to buy a whole new device.
Now though, Apple has done a complete 180 and has said they will soon begin not only allowing customers to repair their old products, but will provide the tools and components they need to do so.
From next year, Apple will start offering more than 200 individual parts and tools to repair the iPhone 12 and iPhone 13. These include screens, batteries, and cameras. Apple has said that the repairs are designed to be undertaken by “individual technicians with the knowledge and experience to repair electronic devices,” however, there is nothing to stop you doing a bit of research and trying the fix yourself.
A quick YouTube search will bring up detailed instructional videos for how to open and repair old devices and it really is a case of following along at home.
Apple has said that the physical and online repair shop will launch in the US in early 2022 before being rolled out to the UK and other countries later next year.
Anyone who returns broken parts from their repair will be credited with money towards their next Apple purchase.
It’s a massive change for a company that has long resisted calls for right to repair. Apple has been accused of making its products deliberately difficult to open and fix as well as lobbying policymakers to protect the ‘integrity of their devices.
The Verge notes that Apple has not done this out of the goodness of their heart. Campaigners have long called for these changes and shareholders have recently put more pressure on the company to be more environmentally conscious. Bringing out a new device every year is great for business, but bad for the planet and there’s no coincidence that Apple has made a lot of money off of making its devices with a limited lifespan.
While other third-party manufacturers do offer replacement parts for Apple products, it’s comforting to know that you’re using genuine Apple parts, with the blessing of the manufacturer, when repairing your device. IFixIt, an advocacy group that has long campaigned on this issue, has written that the decision is “a remarkable concession to our collective competency.”
In July, Apple’s co-founder, Steve Wozniak, came out in support of the movement, saying that “we wouldn’t have had an Apple had I not grown up in a very open technology world.”
“It’s time to recognise the right to repair more fully.”
Right of repair touches on a few issues, including open tech that Wozniak mentions here, but it also has huge implications for sustainability.
The rapid expansion of technology and uptake of multiple electronic devices that we all carry and use on a daily basis has created huge issues for recycling and electronic waste disposal.
In 2018 alone, an estimated 50 million tonnes of e-waste was created, something the UN at the time described as a “tsunami of waste.” E-waste is currently the fastest growing waste stream in the world, according to the World Economic Forum. Australia is one of the largest sources of this waste, with each of us contributing around 16.1kgs of electronic waste per year.
Most of our tech junk is exported to developing countries to pick through and recycle. Of course, this process is highly opaque and there’s often no guarantee that our old TVs and laptops aren’t just dumped in a pit somewhere.
The materials they’re made from also create huge issues, as many of the components inside devices like iPhone use rare earth materials and toxic metals like lead and mercury. Vast e-waste dumps in places like Ghana and China leak poison into the atmosphere, affecting everything from air and water quality to agriculture.
While Apple’s right to repair policy is not going to fix everything about this issue, it is certainly a step in the right direction. However, countries need stronger consumer rights to extend the life of their electronic devices if we are to slow the tsunami.
Australia actually has relatively strong consumer rights when it comes to products that people own. The ACCC state that “If a product or service you buy fails to meet a consumer guarantee, you have the right to ask for a repair, replacement or refund under the Australian Consumer Law” and Apple products and their repair and replacement services have long been the focus of ACCC complaints and litigation.
The Australian Productivity Commission has recently submitted its report on an inquiry into right to repair arrangements in Australia and the government is expected to make a response in which it could announce broader right to repair laws in Australia, forcing manufacturers to make their products easier to use and repair.
As for open technology, Apple is one of the largest companies in the world to ‘silo’ its products. This means that the Apple store, app development, and its broad range of technology are shrouded in secrecy and legal barriers denying developers the knowledge of how exactly their products work. Apple products only typically work with Apple software, and if the company stops supporting a particular device or operating system, there’s usually nothing their customers can do about it.
Compare this to ‘open source’ technology like that made by Google, where independent developers are welcome to tinker with the source code of their products, enabling extended community support for their products as well as greater customisation.
This has long been a problem, critics say, as it stifles creative development and restricts users to simply working with what they have. Getting into the source code of software and under the hood of products is key for amateur tinkerers to learn how exactly these marvels of technology do what they do.
In restricting this access, Apple is denying people the right to educate themselves and even improve their own devices and products through DIY fixes and patches.
This step towards open technology signified by the announcement of right to repair should be applauded for both its sustainability and community focus approach.