It happens to everyone — despite your best efforts, your phone falls and the screen shatters. Or the camera lens cracks. Whatever the damage, though, for safety and function, it’s time to seek out a repair. But where do you go?
Professional cell phone repairs, particularly if you have an Apple device, can be very expensive, so many owners attempt to replace faulty parts themselves or go to independent shops — a practice Apple strongly objects. Posing legal challenges to a concept known as right-to-repair, Apple is facing down device owners in a battle over who controls device parts.
Do you have a right to repair?
The legal concept of right-to-repair has its foundations in the automotive industry, which is why you can take your car to any of dozens of local mechanics for repairs. However, as car technology became more complex, a few companies tried to keep key diagnostic technology away from the public, creating a monopoly on repairs. Aggressive legislation in Massachusetts outlawed the practice, however, helping to return car repairs to the public domain in 2013, not just in Massachusetts but across the US.
The challenge with cell phones and other technology, though, is that repairs are far less standard than they are for cars, televisions, or other traditional devices. Rather, they tend to change every time devices are updated, often call for specialized parts, and owners who dare to make unauthorized repairs or modifications threaten to nullify any warranties or the ability to get future repairs from the device developers.
Grappling with Apple
Few companies have put up such a public fight against right-to-repair laws as Apple. The tech giant, which has suffered in the public opinion after what’s been termed “battery-gate,” cut back on iPhone X production significantly during Q1 2018. After manufacturing just 20 million rather than 40 million units, the otherwise successful company needs to keep repairs in-house — and within the budget. They’ve already done extensive cut-rate service to make up for exposed battery function issues.
Apple’s opponents are extensive. Small, independent repair businesses are cropping up everywhere, whether they’re multi-device repair specialists like CPR Cell Phone Repair that offer affordable fixes for Apple devices among many other brands or individuals tied into the grey market for replacement parts. Apple repair specialist Jessica Jones, for example, recently had a shipment of iPhone screens seized by customs and is planning legal action. Jones has also testified as an expert witness against Apple as part of a class action suit regarding a design defect.
A serious proponent of the right-to-repair, Jones teaches classes on repairing Apple devices, and she’s not alone in advocating for a simplified repair process. Why, after all, does it cost over $500 to repair a cracked lens on the iPhone X? The increasingly complex design of many of Apple’s devices means it’s difficult for experts to repair small problems of this sort, as they need to take the devices completely apart. Furthermore, with countless proprietary parts, every Apple piece demands special orders and dedicated manufacturers.
Right-to-repair laws challenge this approach to technology, but unfortunately, because of Apple’s lobbying power (and help from IBM, Microsoft, and others), no states have managed to pass a law of the sort. Rising costs, rising frustration with replacements, and concerns about the environmental impact of these devices, however, are putting pressure on the companies.
The fact is that people are going to keep repairing their own devices, and it’s more than just a DIY ethos. Though Apple may be a major force opposing the right-to-repair fight, tech activists are pushing back. After all, you own the device — why shouldn’t you be able to repair it yourself?