As devices turn into services, what is ownership?
ATHE PURPOSE OF PPLE has always been to empower the users of its goods. “People are inherently creative. They will use tools in ways that toolmakers never thought possible, ”Steve Jobs, the late co-founder of the computer maker, once said. So it was always strange that the company went to great lengths to prevent customers from repairing its products. Repair manuals were kept secret; original spare parts were hard to find; and, more recently, the screen replacement of the latest iPhone disabled the facial recognition feature of the gadget.
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Not anymore. In a series of measures that surprised many, Apple earlier this month promised a software patch to make the new iPhone model more serviceable, and on November 17 announced that it would allow individuals to repair their devices and provide manuals, tools and parts. Even his detractors applauded, especially leaders of a growing global “right to repair” movement, including Kyle Wiens, the boss of iFixit, a website that sells spare parts and publishes free repair guides. .
However, the likely impact of the Self-Service Repair program is unclear. A new online store will open early next year. Homeowners who return used parts for recycling will receive credit toward a purchase. Independent repair shops can join, without signing onerous agreements with Apple. And, above all, repairs by individuals will no longer void the warranty (damage caused during DIY is not covered).
But the toolmaker is giving up less ground than it first appears. Replacement parts from Apple, like its high-end devices, cost a pretty penny. A new screen for the iPhone 12 is priced at $ 268. It’s also unclear to what extent Apple will make its devices easier to repair. Because even swapping out a battery requires removing the easily breakable screen, not many people will try this at home.
Yet if Apple went further, its repair program could become a model for the smartphone and, perhaps, for the electronics industry at large. Even its current form will push competing device makers to follow suit. “When it comes to repairs, Samsung Electronics is doing even worse than Apple,” says Wiens. Apple’s move, he adds, suddenly belied many of the arguments electronics companies use for not making gadgets easier to repair, such as the fact that people could injure themselves.
Apple has also managed to get ahead of the regulatory trend, says Nabil Nasr of the Rochester Institute of Technology, who is working on a study for the Group of Seven (g7) the richest democracies on the consumer electronics lifecycle. Regulators, he explains, are tackling the problem of e-waste – it may soon become difficult for companies to comply with all mandates. In the United States, for example, the legislatures of 27 states are currently discussing right to redress bills. The European Union is also moving towards adopting such rules.
Apple watchers wonder if the company will try the same strategy elsewhere in its business. It could make preemptive concessions, for example, in the heated controversy over how it governs the App Store on the iPhone. On November 9, a California federal judge dismissed Apple’s request to stay a recent ruling. This requires it by December 9 to allow app developers to inform their users how they can pay them directly and to avoid Apple’s fees of up to 30% of the purchase price. Maybe Apple could chill out there as well.■
This article appeared in the Business section of the print edition under the title “iMac, iPhone, iRepair”