What Apple’s change of heart on at-home iPhone repairs means for you

Its new Self Service Repair Online Store will provide manuals and access to tools for fixing common hardware issues.

Apple employees work behind the Genius Bar at the Apple store in Bethesda, MD.  (Photo by Brooks Kra...
Brooks Kraft/Corbis Historical/Getty Images

Apple, the world’s most ardent adversary of right-to-repair laws, has announced a new program called Self Service Repair, allowing consumers to (officially!) fix their own iPhones at home for the first time ever. The program will provide schematics and parts for the iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 — for a price, of course — with plans to expand into Mac repairs early next year.

“Creating repair access to Apple genuine parts gives our customers even more choice if a repair is needed,” said Apple COO Jeff Williams.

If this statement made you do a double-take, you’re certainly not alone. Apple has been fighting against right-to-repair reform for many years, citing the general public’s inability to accurately grasp the complexities of the company’s devices. But the right-to-repair movement has gained exponential traction with lawmakers in many parts of the world. The new decision isn’t Apple turning benevolent; it’s the company’s way of getting ahead of new policies to enact change on its own terms.

Not for everyone — Self Service Repair ranks as one of the biggest changes in Apple’s business model in many years. If you’ve ever had to bring your laptop or phone into an Apple Store for service, you know the struggle — Apple can essentially demand any price it wants for your repairs, because you have no choice but to say yes or trash the device. Even third-party retailers like Best Buy are often forced to send warrantied devices back to Apple centers for repairs.

The Self Service Repair program will not put an end to this problem, exactly. It will instead allow consumers to read through online repair manuals and order parts and tools through the new Self Service Repair Online Store. For now, users will only be able to fix the most common iPhone problems: display, battery, and camera issues. For everything else, you’ll still need to head to the Apple Store.

Apple is clear, in its announcement, that most iPhone owners will find no solace in the program. “Self Service Repair is intended for individual technicians with the knowledge and experience to repair electronic devices,” the company writes. “For the vast majority of customers, visiting a professional repair provider with certified technicians who use genuine Apple parts is the safest and most reliable way to get a repair.”

Not by choice — Apple has spent many years lobbying against right-to-repair. It has built a monopolistic repair empire on the excuse that allowing others to repair their devices would be an enormous security and safety risk.

Apple’s devices are not marginally easier to repair than they used to be. What’s changed is that Apple now realizes the tide of public opinion has shifted. Customers are annoyed that they’re forced to accept Apple’s repair policies, not appreciative of the highly specialized support system Apple purports.

In the last year or so, lawmakers have also latched onto the right-to-repair movement in major ways. New York passed a right-to-repair law with overwhelming support this past summer, and not long after the FTC voted unanimously to endorse the movement as a whole. Apple is hoping to get ahead of that momentum just a little bit.