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Saturday, May 28, 2022

Apple’s self service repair program needs some work

Apple has launched its self-service repair website, where you can order parts and tools for recent iPhones and access repair manuals. It’s a nice move to see, and the ability to buy original parts is something right-to-repair advocates have been asking for for a while, but some users seem disappointed by the limited offerings and see it as too little, too late. Let’s take a look at what’s there, what isn’t, and what it takes to get your iPhone fixed using genuine parts.

Video: Apple’s self service repair store

What’s available on the site

To start with what’s available: Currently, it offers replacement parts for the iPhone SE (third generation), iPhone 12s, and iPhone 13s. For the supported products, the site offers replacement batteries, bottom speakers, cameras, displays, SIM trays, and taptic engines. The site also offers repair tools, either individually for sale or in a weekly rental as part of a device-specific kit. The tools range from torque drivers and adhesive cutters to specialty heated display removal tools and presses.

Returning replaced parts

When I first looked at the prices, I was slightly surprised by how high they are – some of them are roughly on par with bringing a device to Apple and getting a first-party repair. But the credit received for returning the replaced part should be considered. The credit amount varies based on the specific component – about $25 for a battery, $30 for a screen, and over $50 for a camera – as high as $67 for the iPhone SE camera. That brings the price for the component down from $111 to $44.

While the credit alone is nice, it is also important as it helps ensure that the components can be recycled properly. Apple has its own iPhone disassembly robots to take apart iPhones so they can be recycled, and this credit for returned components provides an incentive for people to return broken components for recycling, rather than them ending up in a landfill. That’s especially important for lithium batteries, which can be a fire hazard and shouldn’t be placed in standard garbage or recycling bins. We often cover improvements in lithium battery recycling over on Electrek. As the need for high-density energy storage continues to grow, with increased EV adoption and grid storage solutions, there is a growing need for lithium, and battery recycling is part of that solution. More recycling facilities are being announced on a seemingly regular basis, so providing a credit for returns is an excellent way to incentivize the environmentally friendly action that can help make the batteries for new phones.

Limited device support

One of the many complaints at the launch has been how limited the part selection and device support are. You can go to Apple.com today and buy a brand-new iPhone 11, but if you drop it tomorrow you can’t buy the replacement screen. Apple announced the creation of the site last year, so I hoped they would launch the site with support for more devices. While it’s easy for tech enthusiasts to look at the devices we have in our pocket at say, “Well, people should upgrade anyway,” plenty of people don’t want to – and shouldn’t have to – buy a new phone every other year. If the devices they have work for them, why upgrade rather than just fix them and reduce e-waste? Apple’s own paper released as the site launched highlights the extended life of Apple products, noting that iPhone 12 and 13s retain more of their value than any other smartphone models released the same year.

By building durable hardware, providing ongoing software updates and convenient access to repair, consumers can use our devices longer. For example, MacBook Pro lasts an average of 2-4 years longer than traditional PCs. Apple products tend to have higher resale values, and are passed on to new users more often. For example, iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 retain more of their value than any other smartphone model released in the same year. By designing products to last, we are doing the right thing for our customers, and we are doing the right thing for the planet by getting the most out of the finite resources we use to build them.

Hopefully, as new iPhones are released, parts for older ones remain on the site, and the support will expand to older devices. There are plenty of people using iPhone 11s, Xs, and even earlier devices that could use replacement parts. The program also doesn’t have parts available for any of Apple’s laptops or other devices – just iPhones. In the announcement, Apple said that it plans to add support for Apple Silicon Macs later this year. Even for the supported devices, there are a number of repairs that the site doesn’t provide parts for – including for the buttons and lightning port.

Dissuading use?

Apple is hardly encouraging its customer to repair their own devices. Not in the slightest.
Apple’s paper titled “Expanding access to service and repairs for Apple devices” goes over the different ways that customers can get their devices repaired. That’s first-party repairs by Apple, either by mail or in an Apple store, Apple Authorized Service providers, independent repair providers, and the new self service repair. The first part of the self service repair section talks about who Apple thinks shouldn’t use the program.

For the vast majority of customers, the safest and most reliable repair is achieved through an Apple Store or one of the thousands of Apple Authorized Service Providers and Independent Repair Providers around the world. Repairing modern electronic devices that are complex, highly integrated, and miniaturized isn’t easy — and these technicians have the expertise, training, parts, and tools to get the repair done right.

The way I see it, the ability to use Apple’s first-party tools and guides makes it easier for anyone to fix their own devices, but it’s admittedly hard to argue that it’s the best solution for most people, who would prefer to just have someone else deal with it.

The repair manual

After you get through the table of contents and warning, you get to the part about ordering parts – and it has a code in it. In order to purchase a replacement part, you must input the code. I don’t think that’s an awful solution, as it allows Apple to cover its bases and ensure anyone replacing parts has read the initial warnings at the very least. However, when ordering parts, you don’t just need the Manual ID – you also need to Serial Number or IMEI number of the device that you will be replacing the parts in. The input serial number must match the serial number of the returned part in order to get the returned part credit.

I’ve found the actual instructions to be incredibly thorough. The manuals go into detail with each step, including lots of additional warnings and tips to ensure even someone who has never repaired a phone before can get by.

There are 31 steps to remove a display and then another 30 to add a new display.
Every repair is just as detailed. Once you’re done with the physical repair, though, you’re not necessarily finished. If you replaced a display, battery, or camera, you need to complete a system configuration. The manual redirects you to Apple’s self-service repair support for instructions on the system configuration, which then requires you to reach out to the support team by chat or phone to get the process started. The manual mentions how system configuration is needed to transfer calibration values or link biometric authentication components. While that’s fair enough, it would be nice if this software tool could be streamlined to not require reaching out to the support team to finalize a repair. You even need to reach out to the support team when you are returning a replaced battery.

SPOT – Third-party operation

Reaching out to the support team has been made a necessary part of repairs, but that’s not Apple’s own support team you’re reaching out to. The self-service repair website is its own thing for a reason: It’s run by a third party. If Apple really wanted to push the new offering, it could have integrated replacement parts sales directly within the Apple Store. That would have made the process much more straightforward. As it is, you must order the parts from selfservicerepair.com, which sends you to Apple.com to download the manual. The specific PDFs push you to Apple’s support page to initialize the system configuration process, which then sends you back to the self service repair website in order to reach out to their support team. Apple could have created a one-stop-shop for all things Apple repair, but instead, they walled it off behind a separate domain with limited device and parts support.

I haven’t even touched on the more intricate board-level repairs and lack of schematics, but that’s a bit more of Louis Rossmann’s specialty, and he went into detail on that when he covered the launch of the service.

9to5Mac’s Take

While I’ve been quite critical of the self service repair program, I truly believe it is a positive step forward for the company – I just also think that there is plenty of room to improve. The service available today is not the best that Apple could have created. Still, having Apple’s official parts and tools available for purchase by individuals, who can also follow Apple’s detailed instructions, will allow customers to feel more confident when performing their repairs. Hopefully, as Apple releases new devices, the company will keep consumer repairs in mind and expand the program to more of their devices and components.

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