After years of fighting Right to Repair, Apple U-turns-ish in California

'It feels like the Berlin Wall of tech repair monopolies is starting to crumble, brick by brick'

Apple has endorsed, with caveats, California's proposed Right to Repair law after spending years opposing DIY fixes.

In a letter [PDF] provided to The Register, the iBiz this week declared it supports SB 244 and urged the State Assembly to approve the law bill, passed by the State Senate in May. The draft legislation is due for a committee vote in the State Assembly next week that would advance it to a general vote.

"In recent years, Apple has taken significant steps to expand options for consumers to repair their devices which we know is good for consumers' budgets and good for the environment," said D. Michael Foulkes, director of state and local government affairs for Apple, in the letter to the bill's sponsor, California Senator Susan Talamantes Eggman.

"In that spirit, we have appreciated the opportunity to engage with you and your staff on SB 244, California's proposed Right to Repair Act, to help ensure California consumers have the resources available to safely repair their devices in a matter that does not compromise their privacy or data security."

That's the way the Cook, he crumbles

It was not always so. For years, Apple and other technology companies like John Deere have fought rules requiring them to allow third-parties to access and repair their products. For example, tech industry lobbying groups previously opposed letting consumers repair mobile phone batteries because it's claimed to be dangerous [PDF]. And industry lobbyists killed a prior California bill, AB 1163, that Eggman introduced in 2019.

Eggman also authored three additional repair bills that did not pass: AB 2110 (2018); SB 605 (2021); and SB 983 (2022).

"Apple’s support for California's Right to Repair Act demonstrates the power of the movement that has been building for years and the ability for industries to partner with us to make good policy to benefit the people of California," said Senator Eggman in an email to The Register.

"I’m grateful for their engagement on this issue and for leading among their peers when it comes to supporting access to repair."

Repair advocates also greeted word of Apple's about-face with enthusiasm.

"Apple’s endorsement of the Right to Repair Bill in California is a watershed moment for consumer rights," said Kyle Wiens, CEO of repair site iFixit, in a statement. "It feels like the Berlin Wall of tech repair monopolies is starting to crumble, brick by brick."

According to iFixit, California's bill goes further than repair laws passed recently in Minnesota and New York by establishing how long parts and updates must remain available. It requires that parts, tools, and documentation for products priced between $50 and $99.99 can be obtained for at least three years after product discontinuation. And for products priced at $100 or more, repair materials must be made available for seven years.

SB 244 also allows cities, counties, or the state to file a legal challenge in superior court, rather than relying exclusively on the state attorney general for enforcement, which would make the law much harder to dodge.

Now look at the caveats

Apple's support, of course, is not unqualified. The Tim-Cook-run corporation says it will back the bill so long as it:

  • Does not require that manufactures allow repair shops to disable security features
  • Focuses on manufacturer obligations to support authorized repair channels
  • Requires that repair providers disclose non-genuine parts
  • Does not extend repair requirements to older (pre-2021) products.

You may want to therefore curb your enthusiasm until we see how these bullet points develop into policy, particularly the bit about how security features will affect repairs. Still, it's a start.

"Apple has long been one of the main Goliaths standing in the way of Right to Repair," said Nathan Proctor, senior director of nonprofit PIRG's Right to Repair Campaign, in a statement. "Our rag-tag team of Davids has not only overcome its opposition, we have flipped its position on our core request. We’re closer than ever to a more fixable world."

Asked whether there's something hypocritical about Apple's enumeration in its letter of all the things the company has done to make its products more repairable since 2016 while its lobbyists have done the opposite, Proctor told The Register:

I think we are all used to companies' public relations teams minimizing criticisms. I don't really care, though. We are focused on trying to get people their Right to Repair, and if Apple has seen the writing on the wall and is changing its tune, we surely welcome the company's support. Apple lobbyists surely were not the only ones opposing our legislation.

As for the timing of Apple's reversal, Proctor said he doesn't know what's going on inside the iTitan but said he suspects the passage of a strong Right to Repair bill in Minnesota made it clear that repair advocates have the will and political clout to get legislation approved.

"Public support has only grown," said Proctor. "Efforts to offer half-measures and anemic voluntary programs have fallen flat. On some level, I'm sure it just made the most sense to stop trying to stop legislation, which wasn't working." ®

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