Policy

Sometimes it just doesn’t work: Why Apple is finally letting its customers fix their iPhones

Apple was the right-to-repair movement's biggest opponent. Facing regulatory pressure, it seems it's finally listening.

An Apple logo on a grid

Until recently, consumers could face tall obstacles when seeking outside repair help, let alone trying to fix things themselves. Big Tech device-makers, particularly Apple, wanted to keep it that way.

Image: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

If your iPhone stops working, what do you do? Usually, you take it to the Apple Store, where an Apple Genius Bar employee can assist you. But maybe the repair is too pricy, or you don't live near an Apple Store. Maybe your local repair technician offers a significant discount. Until recently, consumers could face tall obstacles when seeking outside repair help, let alone trying to fix things themselves. Big Tech device-makers, particularly Apple, spent a fair amount of energy keeping it that way, limiting access to necessary parts and device manuals that would allow consumers to pay someone else for a fix and extend the life of their hardware.

But Wednesday, Apple changed its tune: The company will allow users to fix their own iPhones starting in early 2022. The program will start in the U.S. with the iPhone 12 and iPhone 13, but is expected to expand to include M1 Macs and other countries throughout the year. To access parts, users will first have to read Apple's Repair Manual. Then they can place an order for the required tools through Apple's Self Service Repair Online Store.

Apple did not immediately respond to comment.

This is a dramatic reversal of a longtime policy for Apple, which has historically been a formidable opponent to right-to-repair. Apple often claims that granting third parties access to Apple's repair tools could compromise consumer safety. The company, which is known for quiet defensive plays in Washington and state capitals, also backs trade groups such as TechNet, which has been lobbying against right-to-repair legislation in multiple states.

The right-to-repair movement has been swiftly gaining momentum, however, at both the state and federal levels. After a FTC report finding "scant evidence" justifying repair restrictions, the commission voted in July to fight these restrictions in a display of bipartisanship inside an agency facing partisan divisions and gridlock. Increased access to third-party repair showed up as part of President Biden's July executive order on tech and competition and New York's State Senate this year passed a right-to-repair act. Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak publicly backed the movement.

For right-to-repair activists, the news is both shocking and exciting. "This has been an all-out war we've engaged in for over 18 years with Apple," said Kyle Wiens, CEO of iFixit, which helps Americans repair devices. "It's such a huge flip." There had been signs Apple might acquiesce, though. Earlier in November, for example, iFixit published its discovery that Apple disabled Face ID on iPhone 13s with independently repaired screens. Apple said five days later it would update the software that disabled Face ID.

Apple also expanded access to Apple parts in 2019 with the launch of its Independent Repair Provider program. Before that, independent technicians had to pay to become "authorized service providers" and receive genuine Apple parts. Wednesday's move is an even bigger deal, because it opens up repair information to the general public.

As to why Apple may have reversed course, Wiens suggests Apple moved after pressure from a growing body of legislation. Twenty seven different states have introduced right-to-repair bills, all based on the Repair Association's legislative template. "They're staring down a double-barrel," Wiens said. "If right-to-repair passed, they would have been required to do this anyway. They're not going above and beyond what the proposed laws say."

The FTC's rare display of unanimity in pushing back against device-makers on the issue may also have suggested to Apple that it wouldn't escape the issue at the federal level either, even when Republicans eventually retake power at the agency under a future administration.

Apple said the self-service program is intended for "individual technicians with the knowledge and experience to repair electronic devices," not just casual users. Wiens takes issue with this framing, as he thinks "if you design a product right, anybody should be able to fix it." In his view, if anybody from a young tech nerd to a clueless grandma can fix your product, you're doing it right.

Wiens started iFixit with the belief that repair manuals shouldn't be secret — they should be a fundamental human right. "If we're going to put these products out in the world and go through the effort of manufacturing them, with global warming and CO2 emissions, we need to have a plan for making these things stand the test of time," Wiens said.

It's unclear whether Apple's announcement will move the needle for other companies, but it certainly ramps up the pressure. Microsoft has already made some overtures, caving to shareholder requests in October to make its devices more repair-friendly. The movement hasn't fully taken hold of Big Tech yet, but if any of the current legislation passes, companies will be forced to listen.

Fintech

Judge Zia Faruqui is trying to teach you crypto, one ‘SNL’ reference at a time

His decisions on major cryptocurrency cases have quoted "The Big Lebowski," "SNL," and "Dr. Strangelove." That’s because he wants you — yes, you — to read them.

The ways Zia Faruqui (right) has weighed on cases that have come before him can give lawyers clues as to what legal frameworks will pass muster.

Photo: Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post via Getty Images

“Cryptocurrency and related software analytics tools are ‘The wave of the future, Dude. One hundred percent electronic.’”

That’s not a quote from "The Big Lebowski" — at least, not directly. It’s a quote from a Washington, D.C., district court memorandum opinion on the role cryptocurrency analytics tools can play in government investigations. The author is Magistrate Judge Zia Faruqui.

Keep Reading Show less
Veronica Irwin

Veronica Irwin (@vronirwin) is a San Francisco-based reporter at Protocol covering fintech. Previously she was at the San Francisco Examiner, covering tech from a hyper-local angle. Before that, her byline was featured in SF Weekly, The Nation, Techworker, Ms. Magazine and The Frisc.

The financial technology transformation is driving competition, creating consumer choice, and shaping the future of finance. Hear from seven fintech leaders who are reshaping the future of finance, and join the inaugural Financial Technology Association Fintech Summit to learn more.

Keep Reading Show less
FTA
The Financial Technology Association (FTA) represents industry leaders shaping the future of finance. We champion the power of technology-centered financial services and advocate for the modernization of financial regulation to support inclusion and responsible innovation.
Enterprise

AWS CEO: The cloud isn’t just about technology

As AWS preps for its annual re:Invent conference, Adam Selipsky talks product strategy, support for hybrid environments, and the value of the cloud in uncertain economic times.

Photo: Noah Berger/Getty Images for Amazon Web Services

AWS is gearing up for re:Invent, its annual cloud computing conference where announcements this year are expected to focus on its end-to-end data strategy and delivering new industry-specific services.

It will be the second re:Invent with CEO Adam Selipsky as leader of the industry’s largest cloud provider after his return last year to AWS from data visualization company Tableau Software.

Keep Reading Show less
Donna Goodison

Donna Goodison (@dgoodison) is Protocol's senior reporter focusing on enterprise infrastructure technology, from the 'Big 3' cloud computing providers to data centers. She previously covered the public cloud at CRN after 15 years as a business reporter for the Boston Herald. Based in Massachusetts, she also has worked as a Boston Globe freelancer, business reporter at the Boston Business Journal and real estate reporter at Banker & Tradesman after toiling at weekly newspapers.

Image: Protocol

We launched Protocol in February 2020 to cover the evolving power center of tech. It is with deep sadness that just under three years later, we are winding down the publication.

As of today, we will not publish any more stories. All of our newsletters, apart from our flagship, Source Code, will no longer be sent. Source Code will be published and sent for the next few weeks, but it will also close down in December.

Keep Reading Show less
Bennett Richardson

Bennett Richardson ( @bennettrich) is the president of Protocol. Prior to joining Protocol in 2019, Bennett was executive director of global strategic partnerships at POLITICO, where he led strategic growth efforts including POLITICO's European expansion in Brussels and POLITICO's creative agency POLITICO Focus during his six years with the company. Prior to POLITICO, Bennett was co-founder and CMO of Hinge, the mobile dating company recently acquired by Match Group. Bennett began his career in digital and social brand marketing working with major brands across tech, energy, and health care at leading marketing and communications agencies including Edelman and GMMB. Bennett is originally from Portland, Maine, and received his bachelor's degree from Colgate University.

Enterprise

Why large enterprises struggle to find suitable platforms for MLops

As companies expand their use of AI beyond running just a few machine learning models, and as larger enterprises go from deploying hundreds of models to thousands and even millions of models, ML practitioners say that they have yet to find what they need from prepackaged MLops systems.

As companies expand their use of AI beyond running just a few machine learning models, ML practitioners say that they have yet to find what they need from prepackaged MLops systems.

Photo: artpartner-images via Getty Images

On any given day, Lily AI runs hundreds of machine learning models using computer vision and natural language processing that are customized for its retail and ecommerce clients to make website product recommendations, forecast demand, and plan merchandising. But this spring when the company was in the market for a machine learning operations platform to manage its expanding model roster, it wasn’t easy to find a suitable off-the-shelf system that could handle such a large number of models in deployment while also meeting other criteria.

Some MLops platforms are not well-suited for maintaining even more than 10 machine learning models when it comes to keeping track of data, navigating their user interfaces, or reporting capabilities, Matthew Nokleby, machine learning manager for Lily AI’s product intelligence team, told Protocol earlier this year. “The duct tape starts to show,” he said.

Keep Reading Show less
Kate Kaye

Kate Kaye is an award-winning multimedia reporter digging deep and telling print, digital and audio stories. She covers AI and data for Protocol. Her reporting on AI and tech ethics issues has been published in OneZero, Fast Company, MIT Technology Review, CityLab, Ad Age and Digiday and heard on NPR. Kate is the creator of RedTailMedia.org and is the author of "Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media," a book about how the 2008 presidential campaigns used digital media and data.

Latest Stories
Bulletins