Apple has announced the Self Service Repair program, which gives individual users who are comfortable with repairing electronic devices access to Apple parts, tools, and repair manuals. When it launches in early 2022 in the United States, Self Service Repair will focus on the most commonly repaired modules of the iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 lineups, including the display, battery, and camera. Apple says it will be rolling out support for M1-based Macs, additional repair options, and availability in more countries throughout 2022.
Apple sees the process following this path:
The user reviews the repair manual for the product and part in question to make sure they’re comfortable performing the repair.
Then the user places an order for the necessary parts and tools using the Apple Self Service Repair Online Store.
After completing the repair, the user returns the used part for recycling and receives credit toward their purchase.
While the Self Service Repair program was a surprise, The Verge’s Maddie Stone notes that the timing was likely related to a shareholder resolution that could have gone to the US Securities and Exchange Commission. Apple says the program has been in the works for longer and wouldn’t comment on whether shareholder pressure influenced the timing of the announcement.
Regardless of how it came about, I applaud Apple for creating the Self Service Repair program. I hope not to need it personally, but if I do, I might give it a try since I’ve replaced batteries in older iPhones and done major surgery on 27-inch iMacs. Or I might not—replacing the battery in an iPhone 5 was nerve-wracking (see “Replace a Dying iPhone 5 Battery,” 5 March 2014).
That said, I have some issues with how Apple is positioning Self Service Repair and what downstream effects it might have. It’s clear that Apple doesn’t want everyone thinking they can repair a broken iPhone screen:
Self Service Repair is intended for individual technicians with the knowledge and experience to repair electronic devices. For the vast majority of customers, visiting a professional repair provider with certified technicians who use genuine Apple parts is the safest and most reliable way to get a repair.
I also suspect that Apple sees the Self Service Repair program as a way to head off other right-to-repair concerns and maintain as much control as possible. For instance, iFixit notes:
Apple’s repair software doesn’t allow replacing a dead part with a working one from another device, even though that would be less expensive and better for the environment than recycling the donor device.
An official repair program like this might help Apple justify further serialization of parts to ensure that it remains the only parts supplier, with the associated ability to keep prices high.
Controlling the parts marketplace also gives Apple the power to determine when a device becomes obsolete—if you can only use genuine Apple parts and Apple no longer makes them, repair becomes impossible.
But again, there’s no question that the entire Apple ecosystem is better off with the Self Service Repair program than without it. Right-to-repair advocates like Kyle Wiens of iFixit and Nathan Proctor of USPIRG are generally positive about the move and hope that it encourages other manufacturers, but they’re also realistic that there’s a lot more to be done.