World checks it's not April 1 as Apple signals support for full US right-to-repair rule

But beware geeks bearing gifts

Apple is backing the Biden Administrations' push for a nationwide right-to-repair law but, as with all things Apple, always check the terms and conditions. 

Speaking at a White House event on nationwide right to repair legislation, Apple VP and GM of service, Brian Naumann, expressed support for an expansion of right to repair rules by pledging to start honoring the terms of California's new right to repair law across the country. 

"Whether you are in California, Maine or Michigan, Apple will make the parts, tools, and documentation needed to repair your Apple products available to you at reasonable prices, as outlined in the California law," National Economic Council Director Lael Brainard said during the live-streamed event.

"Apple also supports a uniform federal law that balances repairability with product Integrity, data security, usability and physical security," Naumann added.

The California right to repair law, signed by governor Gavin Newsom on October 8, made California the third US state after Minnesota and New York to pass such laws covering electronic devices. Under the rules, any electronic device priced between $50 and $99.99 would need to have parts available for five years, and devices that cost in excess of that would have to have parts available for seven years. 

Apple has already begun to comply with the law, at least for iPhones and MacBooks, iFixit director of sustainability Elizabeth Chamberlain told The Register. If Apple's nationwide right-to-repair rollout is consistent with the California law, it "will undoubtedly be a good thing," Chamberlain said. 

"When Apple rolls this program out, individuals and independent repair shops will have more access to the repair materials they need. That should make repair more accessible and, ideally, less expensive overall," Chamberlain told us. 

The Electronic Frontier Foundation also welcomed the announcement.

"Apple's announcement that it will make repair information and tools available nationwide is very welcome, and will put pressure on other hardware companies to follow," EFF director of competition policy and IP litigation director Mitch Stoltz told us.

"If Congress considers a federal law, we would want it to apply broadly and not preempt the states' efforts, and we hope Apple would support a federal law like that."

Comply with new laws? Then we'll just have to write them

Apple has long been an opponent of right to repair legislation, which made its reverse ferret on the California law in August surprising to many. 

"Of course, Apple's support of [the California] bill only happened after a long negotiation process," Chamberlain noted, in which Apple-demanded concessions were added to the bill that was eventually signed into law. 

"In one draft, the California bill had an explicit ban on requiring Internet access to complete a repair, which would've made Apple's parts pairing strategy unviable. The parts pairing ban got left out of the bill in service of getting Apple on board," Chamberlain said. 

Other changes Apple demanded included not requiring manufacturers to allow repair shops to disable security tools, a limit to devices manufactured prior to 2021, a focus on manufacturers only being obligated to support authorized repair channels and repair provider disclosure when non-genuine parts are used. 

Apple has caved to EU rules that required it to eliminate the proprietary Lightning port in favor of USB-C on new devices late last year, signaling it's more than willing to abandon long-established positions when facing serious legislative headwinds. 

However, by tossing its influence and new-fangled repair-friendly face behind a bill that leaves Apple able to restrict repairs via parts pairing, little has actually changed. Sure, parts are available, but repairs still have to be approved by Apple, and without Cupertino's blessing comes on-screen warnings, limited functionality and other restrictions.

"Most major repairs on modern iPhones require Apple approval. You have to buy parts through their system, then have the repair validated via a chat system," iFixit CEO Kyle Wiens wrote last month after revising iFixit's iPhone 14 repairability score from a 7 out of 10 down to a 4 due to parts pairing tech. 

"Shops harvest parts from broken devices. They use third-party parts. They shouldn't have to send Apple their customers' personal information, or agree to five years of audits just to do the repairs they know how to do," Wiens opined. 

Apple didn't respond to questions for this story. 

Right to repair momentum is great, but don't expect Apple to suddenly make its repair services practical as they expand across the US. For that matter, don't expect a future nationwide right-to-repair bill to truly benefit consumers if Apple gets to steer the ship like it did in California. ®

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