Consumers and tech nerds have become accustomed to obsessing on every new product release from Apple. But this week the company made an announcement that may have a bigger impact on owners of its iPhones and other devices than another sleek gadget.
For the first time since the company became a mass merchandiser — let’s say since 1984 — Apple will allow consumers to perform the most common repairs on its iPhones, namely screen and battery replacements.
The change in the company’s long-standing policy of forcing its device owners to go through its network of authorized repair shops or through the company itself sent shock waves through the right-to-repair community, which has fixated on Apple as its most influential foe.
“It’s incredibly significant as a reversal of its policy,” says Nathan Proctor, director of the right-to-repair campaign at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. “It’s more evidence that right-to-repair can change the direction of these big companies.”
Apple has been in the crosshairs of right-to-repair campaigners for several reasons. One is that its products — not only iPhones, but iPads and Mac computers — have been designed in ways that seem deliberately to discourage consumer repairs; its laptops are assembled with screws requiring special screwdrivers, and come with parts such as memory cards and batteries glued in place in ways that make them hard to remove without damaging other parts.
The company has kept a vise grip on third-party repair shops by limiting access to parts, tools and diagnostic software to authorized technicians specially certified by the company. While it broadened some access to independent repair providers in 2019, it did so under terms that many found burdensome.
Device owners who tried to replace easily accessible parts, such as cracked screens, even with parts cannibalized from other Apple products, found that they weren’t fully functional, thanks to Apple software that detected the replacements.
Apple’s announcement Wednesday introduced what it called Self Service Repair, which will give consumers access to Apple parts and tools. The program will start early next year with display, battery and…