Published in El Pais, 26 March 2019.
Our phones are everything to us, so much so that when we drop it and hear a crack we pray that the sound is our own leg breaking and not the screen. The horror of picking up our phone after it falls face first into the ground and seeing the cracked screen is something we all hate to experience. Of course, the fun does not end there. Head over to an authorized retailer and they will hit you with high prices. Depending on the screen you can be on the hook for anywhere from $150 to over $300 to fix it.
Manufacturers like Apple seem to hold a monopoly on repair jobs and often set the prices so high many decide to buy a new device rather than repair. To highlight the severity of this problem, one reporter took a MacBook with a non-functioning screen to the Apple store to get it repaired. The technician claimed water damage and that it would cost at least $1000 to fix and maybe more. He then tried to convince him to buy a new computer. Following this shocking revelation, the reporter went to a third-party repair shop where the technician opened it up, noticed a wire was lose, plugged it back in and everything was working again. The problem was so simple the store did not feel right charging any money for the repair. Good thing that reporter didn’t buy the new computer.
You may think this is not a big deal as I have mentioned the potential solution to this problem in the previous paragraph. Just go to a third-party shop and you will be charged a reasonable rate. Unfortunately, it is not that simple. Apple has gone to great lengths to limit the ability third party retailers and self repairers can fix their products, including but not limiting too: keeping repair manuals secret, inventing new screws so that standard tools will not function and maintaining a monopoly over Apple parts so that even if a third party can get past the first two problems they would still be fixing it with inferior parts.
The good news is that several US states have brought forward right to repair bills that would force manufacturers to provide third party repair shops with the information they need to service the device. Apple has fought the bill every time but if the law can pass in just one State it can have worldwide implications. If Apple must adjust their business model for the whole State it would be more practical for them to do so for the world. Even if they do not provide information such as repair manuals, in the internet age it will be very easy for shops around the world to access this information once published.
I know it feels like we are constantly at the mercy of big corporations but hang in there, lawmakers are finally starting to take notice and it won’t be long before we are finally able to fight back.