A bill that could make it easier to fix broken phones, computers and tablets was killed in the New York state legislature on Saturday when the session officially ended. Opposed by tech giants such as Apple, Cisco and Xerox, the bill would have forced companies to release electronic parts and design manuals to independent repair shops. If passed, the bill could have been a boon to repair technicians and "right-to-repair" advocates nationwide. The New York legislature had until the end of June to consider the Fair Repair Act, but the bill was squashed in committee before it had a chance to reach the floor for a vote. Advocates for the Fair Repair Act argue that if big tech companies give repair shops access to official manuals and electronic parts for devices, such as the iPhone, consumers would have more cost options to fix their phones and prolong a device's life.
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 mercy--no 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.
Michael Oberdick owns two small gadget repair shops in northwestern Ohio. He and his technicians spend their days at iOutlet replacing busted screens, repairing battered motherboards, and generally making life easier for people who've done something stupid with their gadgets. He found this job far easier just five years ago, when he started repairing phones for friends. Back then, anyone with basic tools, a little patience, and an instruction manual could fix just about anything. But these days, performing all but the most basic repairs requires specialized tools and knowledge that companies like Apple and Samsung guard jealously.
Last week, Apple responded to a series of questions that the US House Judiciary Committee sent to it back in September as part of a broader antitrust probe. In addition to addressing questions about App Store policies, its web browser Safari, and the company's data collection practices, Apple also answered a series of questions about its hardware repair programs. It emphasized that it doesn't restrict repairs or refuse to repair gadgets that might have been fixed previously by unauthorized technicians. For right-to-repair advocates, though, Apple's answers weren't good enough. Proponents of a more open source approach to repairing gadgets say that Apple's on-the-record responses are examples of "expert question-dodging," or in some cases "downright false."
Apple told at least 275 Australian customers affected by Error 53 that they weren't entitled to a remedy because their devices had been previously serviced at non-Apple stores, effectively voiding guarantees. The customers were told this between February 2015 and February 2016 and the information was provided on Apple's website, by Apple's Australia in-store staff and on customer-service phone calls. Under Australian law, customers are entitled to a repair or replacement, and sometimes a refund, if a product is faulty, according to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, which sued Apple. Some Apple customers saw Error 53 as part of a general effort to prevent users from going to non-Apple stores for repairs. Commissioner Sarah Court said Tuesday the Federal Court of Australia ruled Apple couldn't cease consumer guarantees because an iPhone or iPad had been repaired by someone other than Apple.