To Repair or Replace
iFixit and US PIRG both contest some of Appleâs responses, particularly around the ways in which Apple may or may not advise against non-authorized repairs. Another point they take issue with is Appleâs use of the phrase âsame unit repair,â which is worth unpacking. Many key components within an iPhone or Mac can be repaired, Apple says in its response, but âsame unit repairsâ arenât possible for all products because of the challenges around disassembling and reassembling devices.
In other words, a customer might go into the Apple Store or other authorized repair shop for a fix, and the repair might be so complex that the product is effectively replaced. The topic of ârepairsâ not only becomes one of semantics but also raises the question of whether Apple (and other electronics makers) could be slotting full replacement devices into a definition of repairs. Proctor, of US PIRG, says in his blog post that this is Apple attempting to âcreate a new category of repair.â
Kevin Purdy, a writer for iFixit, hits even harder, saying some of the repairs Apple performs are âdisingenuous.â He says there are instances when a repair to a solid-state drive or a Touch ID sensor on a Mac laptop will result in the replacement of the motherboard, which he likens to âprescribing a heart transplant for a common flu.” “Only Apple can, with a straight face, claim that they offer ârepair services through refunds or replacementsâ on some devices,â Purdy writes.
(On a personal note, this has happened to me at least twice. When I attempted to get the cracked screen on my Apple Watch Series 2 repaired, I was eventually told by an Apple Store employee that the pricey ârepairâ would mean a replacement of the whole watch module. Another time, my nonworking MacBook Pro keyboard was diagnosed as a liquid-damaged machine and resulted in the replacement of the logic board, display clamshell, top case, bottom case, battery, keyboard, trackpad, and more. It cost $755.)
Appleâs inability to fix certain modular parts could as much about its design decisions as its repair policies. âIf any single part fails, it shouldnât result in a replacement. But theyâve designed themselves into a corner,â iFixitâs Wiens says, referring to Appleâs attention to sleek, thin products, which may be aesthetically pleasing but equate to hard-to-access glued parts, whether thatâs in a laptop or an AirPod.
Wiens points to Microsoftâs new Surface 3 as an example of what electronics makers could be doing: Previously, if you wanted to swap out a Surface battery you had to replace the whole thing, but now the laptops are easier to disassemble and reassemble.
âThe engineering triangle is always cost, quality, price,â says David Lakatos, the chief product officer for Boston-based 3D printing company Formlabs. âIn this case itâs difficult to draw the line between a company protecting itself from the market of used devices and lost profit, and on the other side, how much more expensive a product would be if they didnât use the type of design or type of glue that optimizes for a single shell, that has some nonreversible elements to it.â
Appleâs definitions of ârepair,â âsame unit repair,â and âreplacementâ might be an ancillary part of the overall right-to-repair argument between tech makers and repair advocates. But itâs this kind of verbiage that Wiens calls a âkey part of the arguments,â because Apple saying certain products canât be repaired (and that they instead must be replaced at a higher cost) is partly what drives consumers to seek out other options at non-Apple repair shops, he says. Consumers might even consider fixing products themselves, which would be easier if they had access to the right parts and manualsâwhich is the foundation of the whole right-to-repair movement in the first place.
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