Why "Right to Repair" is So Important in 2019
As a regular consumer and appreciator of your iPhone, iPad, or MacBook, you may or may not have heard about this little thing called ‘Right to Repair’. Basically, repair shops both large and small are working together to pass legislation that would win local repair shops like mine access to parts, service manuals, and diagnostic tools from electronics manufacturers at a fair price. This sounds good for me, and it is, but it’s really, really good for you. Let me tell you why.
But before I do that, let me clarify something: this isn’t just for Apple devices, or even just electronic gadgets. According to the Repair Association, there is good to be had in the industries of agriculture, automotive, consumer electronics, information technology, medical, appliance, equipment resellers, and industrial equipment. Many of you know that I’m homegrown in the farmlands of Northwest Ohio. Here in Northwest Ohio, we do lots of farming, and we use mainly John Deere to do it. But, let’s say something goes wrong with my combine or my tractor. Today’s John Deere is so sophisticated that you can’t figure out what’s wrong without special equipment. And the average farmer doesn’t have access to this equipment. Instead, he has to call out a technician to diagnose his problem. Often, the first-level tech isn’t enough to solve the problem, and he has to call out a second-level tech to diagnose and fix the problem. All this can take days or a week to sort out. As a farmer, It’s not a fun place to be, biting your nails during harvest time, hoping your equipment gets fixed before it rains, especially when you could fix it yourself if you had access to the parts and tools you need. Even worse, these specialists are expensive and now suddenly you're wondering if you can even afford all of these repairs when John Deere demands you buy their overly expensive parts. Now let's look at the average home. You buy a washer and dryer, and after a couple years the washer breaks. If you or anyone else attempts to repair it, you risk voiding the warranty. So instead, you end up just buying a new one and leaving the old washer at the dump.
First, Right to Repair will give you more repair options because pricing will be competitive! Third-party repair shops will be able to compete with manufacturers and larger repair chains because everyone will have access to the same parts. For example, we suspect that Apple’s replacement screens cost $28 to make. As third-party repair shops, we pay several times that for parts, and those costs get passed in part to the consumer, meaning the only ones benefiting from this are giant corporations that have a monopoly over the system.
Not only that, but your options will have access to more service material than ever. That’s because Right to Repair legislation will not only make parts available, but service-level manuals and diagnostic tools. These will allow repair professionals to have even better training and be able to diagnose problems more efficiently. Many repair shops have been performing innovative board-level repairs that can reverse the effects of liquid damage and restore irreplaceable data, without any help from manufacturers. Imagine what we could do with all the information? We’ve already saved countless photos, videos, and documents. Important work documents, photos of lost loved ones, newborn baby pictures… Right to Repair leaves you with more options, and better ones, too.
Another HUGE benefit to letting Right to Repair pass means repairing your device is better for the environment. Obscene amounts of waste are created every year by unwanted or unrepairable devices. Over 100 million cellphones alone are trashed every single year, while it's estimated around 70% of that waste could be reused. More and more, we are being encouraged not to fix our broken devices, but to toss them and get new ones. For example, most shops can replace an iPhone charge port for $50-60, same-day. That same repair at an Apple Store is $279-329 if you’re out of warranty. That price tag on such a vital component leaves many people thinking, “Oh. Well maybe I should just get a new phone.” But why, when the part is so inexpensive and so quick to replace? Why have devices become harder and harder not only to repair, but to recycle? You could save so much money and keep a whole device out of the landfill if it was repaired. Or, Apple could sell you a new $800-$1,000 device. But, perhaps some of these complaints are why Apple unveiled Liam in 2017—a robot that can completely dismantle one iPhone 6S for recycling in 11 seconds (Last year they released a new robot named Daisy, replacing Liam). The only problem is that it’s just a proof-of-concept. And it only does iPhones. iPhone 6S devices. One device every 11 seconds, though impressive, is only 1.2 million phones a year, against the more than 231 million iPhones sold last year, against the more than 1 billion Apple devices in use, against a surely astronomical number of devices in total. So, a few problems. The less wasteful solution is to use repair-friendly legislation to take away the temptation from manufacturers to design repair-proof devices.
This last idea is one that hits home with me, my dad, many of my friends, and shade-tree you-name-its across the country. Not only will Right to Repair give repair businesses access to vital parts, service material, and diagnostic tools, but it will give those rights to you, too. I remember the first thing I ever repaired—the ejection springs on a VCR. The sense of adventure and accomplishment you get from unscrewing screws, pulling tabs and cables, and ultimately when that device comes whirring back to life again…It’s awesome. But whether it’s because you love tinkering or because you’re trying to save some cash, you should have access to all of these tools just like we do, if you want them.
There are a few detractors out there (other than the manufacturers, for obvious reasons) to Right to Repair, but I think their arguments are lacking. Mashable, in a Feb. 16th article last year, calls Right to Repair ‘dumb’, opening with a horror story of a minor injury caused by a faulty part installed by a third-party technician. Let’s address this point first, that putting these devices into the hands of consumers and “unauthorized” technicians is dangerous. …So? No one said repair couldn’t be dangerous. Life is dangerous! People have been doing their own work on cars for years—ask any DIY mechanic if they’ve hurt themselves working on a car. Then ask them if they thought they’d win a lawsuit against Ford, Chevy, or Honda over it. They’d laugh at you, just like the Repair Association Executive Director did to the reporter in the Mashable piece. In fact, the reality of poor-quality aftermarket parts is another reason we need Right to Repair legislation! Right to Repair will raise the bar for aftermarket manufacturers (not all of whom produce poor-quality parts, by the way) by releasing a plethora of original manufacturer parts into the market.
Others point to things like service manuals and schematics as trade secrets, sticking up for manufacturers’ right to defend them. While I would agree manufacturers have the right to protect their secrets, I don’t think service manuals or even schematics fall under that category. Actually, did you know that Apple schematics have been available for years on the “grey market”? Yet no one is out there hocking ePhone 7s or Universe G8s. Why? Because those people would get sued, they’d lose, and they’d deserve it. Additionally, no one is asking these manufacturers to give these things away. We expect to pay fair prices for the parts, manuals, and tools that manufacturers would provide. They’ve worked hard to produce them, and they should be compensated for them.
At the end of the day, Right to Repair is good for the repair industry, even good for manufacturers, but it’s ESPECIALLY good for you. Right to Repair legislation means access to the same parts, service materials, and diagnostic tools as manufacturers have, for both businesses and consumers. It means you have more options for repair, and better ones. You can have phones designed to work and last, not to be disposable and repair-proof. You’ll be able to keep countless devices out of landfills. The innovative repairs we’ve already been providing—board-level repair, liquid damage repair, data recovery, even removing broken headphone jacks—are just the beginning. We promise to keep serving you, because you should have devices that work. We need ‘Right to Repair’ for the next step. Not only that, it’s just the right thing to do. Help spread the word in 2019.