Apple Will Give Indie Repair Shops the Tools to Fix iPhones

It’s soon going to be much easier to get your iPhone fixed. Apple said early Thursday that it was expanding its product repair program. The company plans to give more independently owned repair businesses the same tools and manuals it gives to “Apple Authorized Service Providers.”

It’s a move that advocates of the consumers’ “right to repair”—who often criticize tech giants like Apple and Microsoft for tightly controlling access to the tools and methods needed to fix or upgrade their electronics—are calling a major step forward in the movement.

Apple’s expansion of the program is limited to repair businesses in the US, and it comes with some qualifiers. For example, some type of certification is still required before Apple will provide the required tools, and the company is demanding that any broken parts collected by the indie repair shops are sent back to Apple. Even still, many see this as a win for technology repair businesses, as well as for consumers. Kyle Wiens, the founder and CEO of iFixit (who also occasionally writes for WIRED’s Opinion section) says that Apple is “finally responding to the reality that their customers have been dealing with for years: Apple does not have the capacity to handle the volume of repairs generated by their market success.”

In a press release, Apple chief operating officer Jeff Williams said that Apple was giving independent repair shops these resources to “better meet customers’ needs.”

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“When a repair is needed, a customer should have the confidence the repair is done right. We believe the safest and most reliable repair is handled by a trained technician using genuine parts,” ones that have been tested according to Apple’s standards, Williams said.

Apple also said it is officially going to start providing some independent repair shops with the same “parts, tools, training, repair manuals, and diagnostics” that repair technicians get in authorized shops. Those authorized stores include places like Apple’s own retail outlets and, more recently, Best Buy. Now, in theory, any repair shop that goes through the same free, 40-hour online certification program will become authorized to do the same kinds of repairs.

The new repair certification program won’t just provide the hardware parts and tools necessary to fix iPhones, but also software and diagnostics tools. The latter became an issue recently, when repair advocates noticed that swapping out the battery on an iPhone XS, XS Max, or XR—even with another genuine Apple battery—triggered a warning notification in the phone’s settings, something that could not be eliminated unless the person performing the repair would have access to certain parts of the software. Right to repair proponents viewed this as hostile to independent fixers and customers.

Show Me Your Warranty

The new Apple repair program comes with other caveats. It only offers “options for the most common out-of-warranty iPhone repairs,” according to Apple. The “out-of-warranty” clause is worth noting because if a person decides to go to one of these independent repair shops—say, if they don’t have an Apple Store or Best Buy nearby—with an in-warranty iPhone that needs fixing, the independent repair shop can determine its own pricing, and it might not align with what Apple normally charges. Certified indie repair businesses also aren’t required to use genuine Apple parts, although Apple will demand that the business discloses to the customer whether it’s an Apple-supplied part or a non-Apple part.

Independent repair shops that become certified must also return broken or unusable parts back to Apple. (The company will cover cost of shipping.) Many shops won’t mind this, says Nathan Proctor, who leads the US PIRG’s Right to Repair campaign, but for other repair shops “refurbished parts are a meaningful business, and help create lower-priced repair options in other parts of the world, especially.”

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