Apple and repair

I largely agree with Nick Heer’s take on Apple’s policies on repair – and the criticisms thereof. I don’t think Apple goes out of their way to engineer things which are harder to repair, and nor do I believe they deliberately engineer-in stuff which breaks third party repairs. They just build stuff to incredibly tight tolerances and are very specific about parts. But… that is ultimately an engineering choice, too. Apple chooses to place tight integration over giving users more ability to repair and replace parts.

To give Apple credit, this tight integration is part of what gives Apple devices longevity. Predictable parts means that Apple can optimise future operating systems to known targets, which is helpful if you want to ensure an older phone is usable with newer software. But I think still think it’s the wrong call. While it gives technical advantage, it increases e-waste and ultimately lessens the lifespan of the device.

Apple doesn’t have to create modular phones that are incredibly easy to repair, although it would be fantastic if it applied its undoubted engineering prowess to doing so. There are a lot of things it could do which aren’t as radical as that. Apple could publish its calibration processes, which would make third party repair easier. It could publish the schematics for its devices, as for example Fairphone do (but other phone makers don’t). It chooses not to do these things. Everything about Apple’s behaviour here is a choice, one that it could and should change.

(And before someone jumps in with “fiduciary duty to maximise profits blah blah” – even in the US, where shareholder primacy is fairly well established, courts have long held that shareholder value is not the same as simple profits.)

Five billion mobile phones will be thrown away this year, and the majority of them will not be recycled. Apple is in a position to do something which benefits its customers and society – and it is choosing not to. It could lead the industry. Instead, it’s contributing to making the planet a less healthy, more polluted place. History will not be kind on the likes of Apple.

(PS This is a bit of an experiment in publishing something to my rather than Wordpress, so bare with me if it goes a bit wrong.)

Ian Betteridge @ianbetteridge