Apple has fought the right to repair devices for years. Why did it just make a U-turn?

FILE - This Aug. 26, 2015 photo shows an Apple iPhone with a cracked screen after a drop test from the DropBot, a robot used to measure the sustainability of a phone to dropping, at the offices of SquareTrade in San Francisco. As software and technology gets infused in more and more products, manufacturers are increasingly making those products difficult to repair, potentially costing business owners time and money. Makers of products ranging from smartphones to farm equipment can withhold repair tools and create software-based locks that prevent even simple updates, unless they're done by a repair shop authorized by the company. (AP Photo/Ben Margot, File)

Apple and the tech industry lobby have argued for years that devices are so complex that only licensed specialists can be trusted to fix them. (Ben Margot / Associated Press)

For years, the nationwide fight for the so-called right to repair has reliably run into the same foe: Apple.

The repair industry, consumer rights organizations and DIY fixers have built a lively movement to try to push tech, appliance and auto companies to make their devices fixable, more open and more sustainable. Time and again, they’ve found themselves staring down the biggest company on the planet.

“Apple has been the biggest opponent,” said Kyle Wiens, the chief executive of IFixit and a national advocate for repair laws. “We had a great bill in Washington state just this year that Apple shot down.”

Now, however, it appears that out of the blue, this most powerful foe has suddenly turned into a formidable ally. In a surprise move, Apple has come out in favor of California legislation, SB 244, authored by state Sen. Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton), that would guarantee consumers access to parts and instructions that enable them to fix their stuff.

Read more: Column: Californians deserve the right to repair their electronics — even if Big Tech hates it

Apple’s support not only clears the path for this bill to become law, it pretty much opens the floodgates for the right to repair just about everywhere, at least when it comes to consumer electronics. It may now be only a matter of time before the right to repair is enshrined in law at the federal level — that’s how big a change it is.

I’ve written about Eggman’s bill in these pages before and encouraged lawmakers to embrace it, which, so far, they have — it passed out of committee with a unanimous 38-0 vote.

Advocates say right-to-repair laws are good for consumers, who can choose to repair their own devices and save the money it’d take to replace them; good for the planet, which sees fewer devices hit the landfill; and good for the communities where repair shops and services create jobs. (This is why right-to-repair bills routinely amass such high levels of bipartisan support; they’re often seen as no-brainers.)