Over the weekend, Apple updated its internal policy, making it easier for retail shops and channel partners to process repairs for iPhones, iPads, and iMacs purchased within a 24-months period.
Sure sounds like Apple is finally changing its longstanding 12-month warranty policy to a 24-month one.
Well, not exactly.
ZDNet understands that despite its one-year warranty policy, Apple has been repairing out-of-warranty phones for free since the Australian Consumer Laws (ACL) changed in 2011. Under the ACL, consumers are given a basic level of guarantee for products, including electronic goods. Consumers, under their statutory rights, can have electronic products repaired even "after any manufacturer's voluntary or extended warranty has expired".
The catch is that this right only applies "for the amount of time that is reasonable to expect, given the cost and quality of the item".
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has previously said that it is reasonable for consumers to expect a mobile handset locked into a 24-month contract to work for the duration of the contract, but for items such as tablets, there is no hard and fast rule about how long manufacturers are responsible for repairs.
After pressures from the consumer watchdog, most telcos now offer 24-month warranty periods for all phones that are on a two-year contract. But despite honouring the ACL behind-the-scenes, Apple continues to only advertise a one-year warranty period for all its products.
"[Manufacturers] are allowed to offer whatever warranty periods they want, but what they offer doesn't affect the ACL," an ACCC spokesperson told ZDNet.
However, if you bring your faulty 13-month old iPhone into an Apple Store, the friendly staff will still action either a handset repair or replacement for you. But for the hapless chap that went out to buy a new phone without realising his bunged-up iPhone is covered under the ACL for repairs — well, that's too bad.
Apple does not do a great job in telling its customers about their legislated rights when it comes to "out of (Apple) warranty" iGoods. The idea of slapping a one-year warranty on a product that is essentially covered for two years is not only confusing, but somewhat misleading.
Even the EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding lashed out at Apple for not adequately informing consumers about their rights.
"Apple prominently advertised that its products come with a one-year manufacturer warranty, but failed to clearly indicate the consumers' automatic and free-of-cost entitlement to a minimum two-year guarantee under EU law," Reding said in a letter to EU ministers late last year. "These are unacceptable marketing practices."
It has to be noted that Apple does have information on its website about the ACL and what it means for its customers, but it's not something that can be found easily on its homepage. You cannot even find it when you click the "support" tab on the Apple Australia homepage. Not to mention the information is presented in a prolix manner (it lives under Hardware Warranties > Additional Legal Rights for Consumers).
It would be a much better customer experience for Apple to simply state that it will repair a faulty iPhone, iPad or iMac within two years of the purchase date. For a company that is built around so-called "customer experience", one would think it was a simple enough request.
But Apple can't be blamed entirely for this warranty quandary. Nothing it is doing is illegal, and the ACCC's "reasonable to expect" clause in the ACL is as a vague as the plot of Twilight.
As a first step, though, isn't it reasonable to expect technology vendors to be upfront about what rights and service their customers are entitled to?