You don’t own your iPhone.
Not really, anyway: The software updates are administered by Apple, and if you break your touchscreen, the company does everything in its power to make sure you have to visit Apple’s licensed stores to fix it. Each little screw holding the device together is a special, proprietary design you won’t find in any standard toolbox.
When you power on, you’re doing so at Apple’s mercyno matter how many hundreds of dollars you paid for your iPhone. Your gadget’s on borrowed time. It’s just inevitable, at this point, that the device will be laid out by some future iOS update, or a touchscreen that short circuits after taking a spill on your bathroom tile.
There’s not much we can do about the software. But your hardware’s a different story.
So-called “Right-to-Repair” laws that require manufacturers to provide information and parts to independent shops have gained momentum in recent years. These laws would loosen the stranglehold companies like Apple have on the devices you own, making them easier to fix when things go wrongand by extension, increasing their lifespan, while reducing the e-waste that comes from purchasing replacement/new gadgets.
But, as I reported last year and Motherboard wrote Tuesday, Apple and its ilk lobby against these bills when they’re introduced. Typically, they kick up enough dust to bury the proposed legislation. Lawmakers try again the subsequent year, and the cycle continues.
But this time around, things could be different. Public support for the bills has grown, while lawmakers have become more familiar with what’s at stake. Thus, advocates say there’s a good chance proposed legislation will make it to committees in many of the eight states considering Right-to-Repair laws this year. Once that happens, the bills could then be get to the floor for a vote.
To be clear, Apple’s far from the only electronics company protesting right to repair. Many stand against the billseither through direct lobbying (as Verizon did in Nebraska last year) or through trade groups (like the Consumer Technology Association). Still, Apple stands above all the rest. They’re not just the most profitable company in the entire world, but a company that, more than any other, influences how our phones are made. And how difficult they are to recycle.
“They’re running out of excuses,” Gay Gordon-Byrne, executive director of the Repair Association, a group of nonprofits and businesses that advocates for right-to-repair laws, said in a phone interview Wednesday. “The last gasp is the safety issue.”
“They’re running out of excuses.”
She’s talking about the way tech companies argue that their customersapparently, drooling babies with soft Johnson’s-soaked fleshwill hurt themselves if they try to repair their equipment. By, say, cutting their fingers on broken screen glass.
Of course, we tend not to hear about these concerns when consumers are forced to press jagged shards against their face, rather than pay hundreds of dollars to repair their broken screens.
Dollars and cents
For a little experiment, on Wednesday, Mashable reached out to four repair shops in different statesNew York, Georgia, Nebraska and Illinois. We asked variants of the same question, saying we’d broken our Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge or an iPhone 7 Plus screens and that we needed a replacement. How much would it cost?
If you want a new S7 Edge screen in Manhattan, you’re coughing up $379; in Dalton, Georgia, that’s $389.99. And a fresh iPhone 7 Plus screen in Omaha, Nebraska will cost you $320, unless you’re willing to wait five days for the shop to order the part for you, in which case the price drops to $205. An iPhone 7 Plus screen replacement was $220 in Peoria, Illinoisbut you’d want to hurry, as the shop only had one unit left in black.
The argument that consumers would be hurt by right to repair is a feint.
This brings us to the big, stupid elephant in the room. Anyone opposing Right-to-Repair tends to argue that independent repair shops already exist, so the legislation is really just introducing pointless regulation. It’s a wrongheaded argument, for a few reasons. For one thing, these laws would force companies to provide device schematics and sell components for repairs, making the work easier for mom-‘n-pop-shops, and ensuring that your busted phone could actually be repaired.
And pay attention to those S7 Edge prices: They’re steep. Kyle Wiens, the head of repair website iFixit, said Samsung screens are hard to come by now. With right-to-repair laws in place, companies would have to make these components available to third-party dealers.
“The parts just aren’t available,” he said. “We sell the S6 [screen] for $200, and we can’t keep them in stock. $200 is a lot for glass for your phone.”
It’s really just a matter of greed.
Consider also that official repair shops simply don’t exist everywhere. Apple has hundreds of stores worldwide, but not in all 50 states. If you’re in Wyoming, you’ll have to travel over state lines for a kid to look at your cracked phone in a Genius Bar. In theory, a Right-to-Repair law would make it much easier for someone to open an independent shop in, oh, Cheyenne, because they’d have access to the information and parts they need.
The argument that consumers would be hurt by right to repair is a feint. This is fundamentally about small businesses having access to information.
Of course, speaking of business: Repairing is a good one for companies like Apple and Samsung, which make a lot of dough taking in your busted electronics, and turning them back around as “refurbished.” Or by you deciding you’d rather just buy a new phone rather than spending almost $400 to replace the screen.
It’s really just a matter of greed. Tech giants want to control every element of their products, even after they’re in your hands. The online era’s required us to cede much in terms of ownership alreadya device that’s always online is a device that requires updates, and those updates will eventually degrade your device’s performance, such that you’re pressured to buy a new one.
Under the status quo, we’re also expected to give up on the very idea that we’d be able to fix our devices without going through official channels, as if only Jony Ive himself could possibly switch out an iPhone battery. That’s obviously not the case. With the right instructions, and the right parts, anyone could do it. Apple would rather you not. They’d rather do it themselves. It’s just better business for them.
But it’s also unfair, and it’s got to stop. With luck, Right-to-Repair bills will pass this yearand the world’s richest tech firms will deal with losing this pointless, greedy revenue stream once and for all.
AND NOW, A DIFFERENT OPINION: No, you shouldn’t be allowed to fix your own iPhone, ‘Right-to-Repair’ is a dumb idea.