Most of us smartphone users have broken our screen, or had a device with a run-down battery that no longer holds a charge. Repairing these common problems should be something manufacturers make easy for their customers.
However, the Apples of the world take great care to block these simple fixes from the public –and from our local repair shops. Many manufacturers refuse to sell replacement parts or repair software, forcing independent fixers to turn to eBay, or other third party providers.
Making matters worse, companies are increasingly using software locks to prevent the part you can get from working properly. For example, Apple programs their devices to send out persistent error messages if you use anything but an Apple part for certain repairs, while taking away important features from phone users.
Tony Heupel, the owner of iTech iPhone & MacBook Repair, has been fixing Apple devices in San Diego for 15 years.
“Every year Apple phones and laptops get harder to fix. With every new phone they introduce, we lose another repair function or ability,” said Tones. “I am watching repair shops around me drop like flies. Either we get Right to Repair laws on the books or businesses like mine will be gone.”
By both refusing to sell parts and placing software restrictions, manufacturers are moving to control more of the repair market. When manufacturers are the only choice for repair, they can charge an arm and leg, or push you into constantly upgrading to their newest model — whether or not your phone has plenty of life left.
Consumers and small businesses across the country have been calling for change — tired of their right to repair being withheld by manufacturers whose self interest is to get you to buy a new device.
In response, Apple recently released a self-repair program that makes genuine Apple parts and tools available to consumers so they can fix their own devices. Before you get too excited, the program has too many hurdles to be practical.
Buying the parts and renting the tools is just as expensive as taking it back to Apple repair, even though you have to do the work. Each part is also coded to work on one specific device, meaning that independent repair shops can’t stock spare parts, making the program impractical for small businesses.
Restrictions on who can fix common products is more than just a menace for local businesses. It’s expensive for consumers and terrible for the planet, with California disposing of some 49,900 phones per day.
Nathaniel Miller, president of the San Dimas nonprofit Heroes Deserve Help, works to ensure old devices go to veterans, and not the local landfill.
“We have repaired and donated 5,000 digital devices to give veterans the tech they need to get an education, benefits, job training, and more,” said Miller. “But Apple tries to lock us out of the devices, taking a $1,000 computer or phone and turning it into a paperweight, a piece of trash.”
We can turn this system around by giving people what they need to fix the devices they already have. That’s the goal of the “Right to Repair” measure Senate Bill 983, pending right now in Sacramento. The proposed reforms would require manufacturers to sell parts and tools, and make service manuals available to prevent a monopoly on repairs.
If we want to fix what we own and preserve the local repair shops on Main Streets, we need to stop waiting and pass Right to Repair this year.
Madison Dennis is a community organizer with CalPIRG, a statewide public interest advocate.