After years of forcing customers to go to Apple Stores or authorised repair centres, Apple will next year open its spare-parts marketplace to consumers who “are comfortable with completing their own repairs”, the company announced just weeks from the tabling of a major report into calls for a legally enshrined ‘Right to Repair’ (RtR).

Consumers will be given access to a new Apple Self Service Repair Online Store, where they will be required to review a repair manual for their products before ordering replacement display, battery, camera, and other modules for iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 models.

The store will stock over 200 individual parts and tools, with components for M1-based Mac computers to follow soon afterwards as the program expands outside of the US next year.

“Creating greater access to Apple genuine parts gives our customers even more choice if a repair is needed,” Apple chief operating officer Jeff Williams said in announcing the new program.

End users now join over 5,000 Apple Authorised Service Providers and 2,800 independent repair companies in being able to access the insides of their Apple devices – something the company has steadfastly refused to do for years.

Apple expanded its Independent Repair Provider program to Australia early this year, but has argued restrictions on access to its devices’ internals are intended to maintain quality and protect user security, with recently leaked videos showing how the company trains technicians to push for ‘genuine’ Apple parts through its network.

Consumer advocates have become increasingly vocal in arguing against what they see as industry efforts to force consumers to upgrade and prevent competition in a multi billion-dollar repairs market driven predominantly by cracked screens.

“Opposition against the right to repair from tech companies is to be expected,” CQUniversity Australia senior lecturer in information systems and analysis Ritesh Chugh recently argued on The Conversation.

“Cornering consumers into using their service centres increases their revenue and extends their market domination.”

Apple has been regularly accused of manipulating devices to counter third-party repairs, warning users about ‘unauthorised’ batteries and last year paying $150m ($US113m) to settle a class action over its practice of slowing down phones with ageing batteries.

Yet amidst reports of privacy violations at repair shops – and Apple’s retreat from an iPhone 13 feature that disables Face ID authentication when phones are replaced with third-party screens – the formal launch of a consumer repair program marks a significant change of heart for the company.

Fixing the Right to Repair

The decision is also likely a peremptory response to formal investigations such as a long-running inquiry by the Australian government’s Productivity Commission, which in late October tabled a report summarising the findings from a process that has run across most of this year.

That report will be made public in early December and, gauging by the tenor of previous industry and consumer-advocates’ comments – the enquiry received 486 submissions and comments – the pendulum is likely to swing further towards enshrining a formal consumer RtR.

The lack of such a right has contributed to “deny consumers choice, limit employment opportunities for repair businesses and stifle innovation,” Repair Café Hobart’s management committee noted in its submission.

“Emphasising ‘intellectual property’ rights as an argument against access to products to enable repair stifles possibilities for inventiveness and innovation which is not in the best interest of the Australian community into the future.”

With the scope of the RtR certain to extend far past smartphones, business body Ai Group warned that many electrical devices weren’t designed to be repaired and used tamper-proof fasteners to “legitimately protect consumers or unqualified repairers from danger”.

The organisation also questioned how many consumers would actually be repairing their devices, arguing that many consumers simply replace obsolete phones and that repairs “are often financially unattractive…. Increased costs to consumers without a genuine lift in repair rates is of no benefit to the community.”