Apple Gives Its Users the Right to Repair

The company will release parts, tools, and manuals in a serious about-face.

A hand holding a broken iPhone display


For years on Treehugger, we have complained about Apple and its war on self-repair, noting that it is hypocritical. I wrote about "the virtues of the seven Rs, which include Repair, and about the need for a rebirth of a culture of reuse rather than replace," while I acknowledge that "I do it on a Mac, where they go out of their way to make it difficult."

So when a tweet flew by discussing Apple's new Self-Service Repair program, I thought it had to be a parody account—it has been that long that we and others like iFixit CEO Kyle Wiens have been complaining about Apple and its policies. According to Apple, parts, tools, and manuals will be available first for iPhones 12 and 13. And in 2022, it'll be available for computers with M1 chips. The company is starting with the most commonly serviced parts: the display, battery, and camera.

Apple COO Jeff Williams says: “Creating greater access to Apple genuine parts gives our customers even more choice if a repair is needed In the past three years, Apple has nearly doubled the number of service locations with access to Apple genuine parts, tools, and training, and now we’re providing an option for those who wish to complete their own repairs.”

Really, color me shocked. This has been our biggest issue for years. Senior editor Katherine Martinko wrote, "Repair is a deeply environmental act. It prolongs the lifespan of an item and reduces demand for new, conserving resources and saving money."

We keep repeating the iFixit mantra: "If you can't fix it, you don't own it." So we reached out to Wiens for his thoughts on Apple's big move. He told Treehugger in an email:

"Making service manuals available to consumers is exactly the right thing for Apple to be doing. No one should be in the dark on how to swap a battery or fix a cracked screen. Access to service information for products is a fundamental human right. We are proud of Apple for making this change.

Apple leads the electronics industry. They pioneered glued-in batteries and proprietary screws, and now they are taking the first steps on a path back to long-lasting, repairable products. iFixit believes that a sustainable, repairable world of technology is possible, and hope that Apple follows up on this commitment to improve their repairability."

In a longer blog post at iFixit, they note it isn't all balloons and unicorns. There appear to be significant caveats. Apple is apparently modeling the self-service repairs after the Independent Repair Provider program, where they make it difficult and expensive to fix phones, and where you are not allowed to harvest or reuse parts. The pricing of Apple parts is not competitive. As Wiens noted in the email,

"We won't know details until we can analyze the legal terms and test the program in January. For now, the catch is that the IRP software requires that Apple provision a part that they sell. You can't swap the screens between two iPhones and then calibrate them with their service software. That's an issue for recyclers, refurbishers, and anyone else accustomed to harvesting parts to perform repairs."

The Apple press release ends with the statement: "By designing products for durability, longevity, and increased repairability, customers enjoy a long-lasting product that holds its value for years."

Elizabeth Chamberlain of iFixit notes it is not a word they often use. But even iFixit was surprised in its breakdown of the new MacBook Pro that it was much more repairable than previous models: "The glue-free opening and a much-improved display swap procedure gets a thumbs up; the stretch-release adhesive tabs on the battery get a hearty cheer."

A screenshot from Apple's environmental progress report.


They get a hearty cheer from us as well, as we wonder what could have caused this change. I doubt it is the challenge from the Fairphone or the new Framework computer; Apple hardware is not designed to be easy to repair and it is probably still going to be daunting. It might be the "Right to Repair" legislation that was passed in France and is proposed in the U.S. congress and 27 states. Perhaps their design thinking has changed since the head of design Jony Ives left; he was always after thinner, lighter, and more minimal machines. Or perhaps, just maybe, it was a stain on their credibility as a company that says it cares about sustainability. Could it be that they are just doing the right thing?