Apple CEO Tim Cook yesterday testified in front of the U.S. House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee where he was questioned on Apple’s App Store policies, but Congress also released a series of emails that Apple had submitted as part of the ongoing antitrust investigation.
Those emails revealed Apple’s thoughts on App Store fees and provided insight into its efforts to negotiate deals with Amazon, but there were also emails on other topics, including the ongoing Right to Repair battle that Apple has been fighting against independent repair shops.
Repair site iFixit is part of the Right to Repair fight and today highlighted Apple’s internal discussions about Right to Repair and the context surrounding those discussions, which is an interesting read for those who support the Right to Repair movement.
For those unfamiliar with Right to Repair, it’s legislation that mandates that consumers should be able to repair their own devices, and that electronics companies like Apple should provide repair parts and repair manuals to all repair shops, rather than just Apple Authorized Service Providers.
Apple has lobbied heavily against Right to Repair, but internally, emails suggest Apple has been uncertain about its position and how it wants to handle repairs in the future. As an example, Apple scrambled to figure out its narrative when The New York Times in April 2019 wrote an op-ed in favor of the movement.
“The larger issue is that our strategy around all of this is unclear. Right now we’re talking out of both sides of our mouth and no one is clear on where we’re headed,” reads the email.
Later in 2019, iFixit discovered iMac repair manuals online and questioned Apple about it. iFixit received no response, but according to the emails shared with Congress, it sparked internal discussion. From an email between Apple PR execs:
Right now, it’s pretty clear things are happening in a vacuum and there is not an overall strategy. Plus, with one hand we are making these changes and the other is actively fighting Right to Repair legislation moving in 20 states without real coordination for how updated policies could be used to leverage our position.”
As it turned out, Apple released the iMac manuals for the EPEAT green certification standard, and not all teams at Apple were aware those manuals were being uploaded nor was everyone in favor of it. Apple did not ultimately remove the manuals, but has not posted further repair instructions online.
Multiple states have introduced Right to Repair legislation, but lobbying from Apple and other companies like John Deere has prevented it from passing. Apple continually cites customer safety as the reason why repairs need to be restricted.
In fact, to persuade California lawmakers not to pass Right to Repair legislation, Apple’s lobbyists took apart an iPhone and explained how customers could harm themselves if the lithium-ion battery is punctured. Apple has also said that it wants to assure customers that their products will be “repaired safely and correctly,” as the reasoning behind not opening up repairs to all repair shops.
Even as it fights Right to Repair legislation, Apple has been making some moves to attempt to appease those pushing for expanded repair access. Apple in August 2019 introduced an Independent Repair Provider Program that provides independent repair businesses with genuine Apple parts, tools, training and repair manuals, but it does require repair shops to sign onerous contracts to get access.
iFixit does, of course, heavily advocate for Right to Repair policies so the piece on Apple’s uncertainty over how to handle the shifting demand for access to repairs is somewhat biased, but the full article is worth a read for those who are interested in better access to repairs.