Thursday, May 26, 2022
Last weekend, The Verge published an article by Sean Hollister under the title “Apple sent me a 79-pound iPhone repair kit to fix a 1.1-ounce battery”. Sometimes I read an article that is so absurdly and deliberately wrong that I’m afraid I’m reading it wrong. That it’s not jackassery, but an attempt at satire that I miss. I had that moment with this one.
But this one is jackassery, and it starts with the title. Why on earth would the weight of the tools necessarily correlate with the weight of the replaced component?
That Apple would even let me buy these parts, let alone read its manuals and rent its tools, is a major change of pace for the company. For years, Apple has been lobbying for repress
right of repair policies across the country, with the company accused of doing everything in its power to prevent customers from fixing their own phones. It’s easy to see this as a great time for DIY enthusiasts. But after trying the repair process, I actually can’t recommend it at all – and I sneakily suspect that Apple likes it that way.
What you need to understand about Apple’s home repair process is that it’s a far cry from traditional DIY if you go for the kit – which I did, once I saw that the repair manual only contains instructions for Apple’s own tools. (You can just buy a battery if you want.)
I expected Apple to send me a small box of screwdrivers, spatulas and pliers; I own an iPhone mini, after all. Instead, I found two giant Pelican crates – 79 books of tools – on my porch. I couldn’t believe how much they were considering paying Apple to ship them back and forth.
If you could properly replace an iPhone battery with a few simple tools, surely Apple would send you the simple tools. But if that were the case, there would be no need for this program. They would just tell you how to do it and send you the replacement parts. You know, as they do to tell you how to replace the battery of an AirTag.
And are we really supposed to take Hollister seriously when he expected smaller tools because his iPhone is a Mini? Once again, I wonder if I am not the victim of a prank. Sean Hollister cooks pizza at home: I was expecting to use a few matches or a butane lighter, but the recipe called for an 800 degree oven. It’s crazy! Why would someone need an 800 degree oven to bake a simple pizza?
One possible explanation for the complexity and weight of Apple’s self-repair toolkit is that iPhones are complex devices, requiring many special tools and machines to open and operate, as well as instructions. of experts. And that even with expensive tools and machinery and detailed instructions, they require careful attention to get it right. As with most of these tasks, experience helps a lot. Thus, Apple has, until now, focused its repair policies on having iPhones (and other devices) serviced by Apple itself or by certified, trained, and trusted partners. And that for the self-service repair program to work, self-repairers will need the same professional tools and machines and step-by-step instructions. It’s bound to be expensive and complicated, and even that said, there’s nothing Apple can do to grant live on self-repairers. There is nothing Apple can do to make these repairs quick or easy.
Hollister seems to be hinting at some sort of malice on Apple’s part. That they ship self-repairers 79 pounds of equipment not because the task requires 79 pounds of equipment, but rather out of pettiness, to discourage people from participating in the self-service repair program. But why would Apple do this? I know some people believe – wrongly – that Apple runs its official service program for out-of-warranty devices as some sort of money-making business. It’s the same kind of cynical “they’re all scammers” thinking that leads people to believe that Apple is sabotaging older iPhones with new software updates to slow them down and reduce battery life to incite people to buy new iPhones.
Occam’s Razor explanation is that Apple makes iPhones look hard to fix because iPhones are, in fact, hard to fix. What exactly does Hollister think Apple should do differently?
Should there be a step in the self-service repair program where you are asked if you want to do the repair right with the right tools and machines, or do it halfway without the right tools?
As I understand it, people who have long asked Apple to support self-service repair are asking for respect. Don’t treat us like babies who need help. Treat us with respect and give us what we need to fix our devices ourselves.
That’s exactly what Apple did. It’s not an insult to send you 79 pounds of professional equipment. It is to respect.
Hollister’s article makes it clear that even with these expensive tools and machines, doing a battery swap on an iPhone is arduous. How does he think it would be okay if he have been equipped with “a small box of screwdrivers, spatulas and pliers”?
Regarding the cost of the self-service repair program, Hollister writes:
What surprised me was the price.
- $69 for a new battery – the same price the Apple Store charges for a battery replacement, except here I can do all the work and assume all the risk.
- $49 to rent the tools from Apple for a week, more than erasing any refund I might get for returning the old used part.
- A credit card hold of $1,200 for the toolbox, which I would lose if the tools were not returned within seven days of delivery.
Let’s be clear: this is a ridiculous risk for the average person who just wants to put a new battery in their phone. And it’s frankly bizarre that Apple insists you cover the full value of the tools. “It’s not like when you rent a car, they charge you $20,000 in security,” points out my colleague Mitchell Clark.
Thus, the battery itself costs the same as an in-store repair. Does Hollister think the battery should be cheaper? Should Apple rent these expensive tools for free? (The $49 rental fee includes two-way shipping, and as Hollister repeatedly points out, the two cases combine to weigh 79 pounds. At $49, Apple might just be losing money on tool rentals, and it’s hard to see how they could do better than break even.) As for the $1200 credit card hold, it’s true that car rental companies don’t do the same thing – but that’s because they’re an entirely different company, with entirely different insurance policies to cover stolen and damaged vehicles. What percentage of car renters even have a credit card with a limit that can cover the full replacement cost of a car? But when you rent other kinds of professional tools, like the cameras, it is common to require a deposit for the cost of the equipment. And even when renting a car, you are charged a to pay.
And while Apple’s own description of the repository describes it as covering “the full replacement value of the tools inside”, I sincerely doubt buying this same piece of equipment would only cost $1,200. Pelican cases that contain the tools alone probably cost $500 or more.
If you really think an iPhone battery or a cracked screen should be serviceable with nothing more than a “little box of screwdrivers, spudgers, and pliers,” what you’re really asking is that iPhones (and all other modern computing devices) are designed, manufactured and assembled in entirely different ways. That sounds good, sure, but that’s not how modern mobile devices work. Apple is no exception in this regard – there are no popular modern mobile devices that are easily repairable with simple tools. If it were possible that iPhones could be more easily repaired, without sacrificing their appearance, dimensions, performance, resistance to water and dust, and cost, Apple would make them more easily repairable. That iPhones aredo noteasily repairable is of no use to Apple. What is the theory otherwise? That $69 in-store battery replacements are very cost effective?
Again, the simple question left unanswered by Hollister: what exactly does he think Apple should do differently?