Cheaper iPhone, Mac repairs: Apple slightly loosens its grip on who mends your devices

Apple lifts restrictions on third-party repairs but still retains tight control over the supply chain.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

Right-to-repair activists and small computer-repair operators may have won a minor concession from Apple, which goes to great lengths to make it difficult for anyone but official stores and authorized repair shops to fix broken or faulty hardware. 

An 'Apple Genuine Parts Repair' presentation from April 2018, obtained by Motherboard, states that Apple has started giving some repair firms access to its diagnostic software. 

It also outlines parts available to repairers and how it places no restrictions on the types of repairs third-party repair shops can do. That could make it easier for iPhone and Mac owners to get difficult repairs fixed without relying on Apple repair centers. 

The document can be interpreted as an effort by Apple to meet the demands of the right-to-repair movement, which has prompted proposed legislation in several US states, including Apple's home turf, California. 

Apple has caused numerous repair-related controversies over the years by using technical means that are designed to discourage users from turning to non-authorized repairers, especially for specific parts, such as the screen on an iPhone

Apple in 2016 effectively bricked some iPhone devices after detecting such repairs had occurred. Apple said it was for security reasons because Touch ID's fingerprint data is stored in a secure enclave. 

Apple has also been criticized for producing hardware that's difficult to repair, such as its defective butterfly-switch keyboard and the MacBook display cable behind the flexgate petition.   

SEE: Top 20 Apple keyboard shortcuts for business users (free PDF)

Computer repair firm iFixit – a frequent critic of Apple's repairability record and a right-to-repair advocate – said the documents show a minor but welcome shift in Apple's approach to third-party repairs. 

"Apple's new plan, as described in these documents, seems like a step in the right direction – and to be fair, it is – but it's a very, very small step that feels more like a PR move or grumbling compliance than an actual attempt to solve the problem," the repair company wrote.

iFixit notes that Apple supplies some parts to third-party repairers at the same cost as it charges consumers to replace them at an Apple Store, giving consumers little incentive to use any service beyond its own. 

Also, only a very select number of authorized repair shops have access to genuine parts from Apple, diagnostics data, and device schematics. 

"This is a step in the right direction, but it's a miniscule one. We need more than this. We need comprehensive Right to Repair laws to require Apple and other manufacturers to make parts widely available, just like they are for our cars and appliances. Nobody should be threatened by lawyers or denied access to parts for the simple act of trying to fix their own stuff," iFixit said.

More on Apple and right to repair 

Editorial standards