Apple to allow some iPhones to be repaired with used parts

'A strategy of half-promises and unnecessarily complicated hedges'

The right to repair movement just scored a major win with Apple's announcement that it plans to begin supporting iPhone repairs with used parts this fall. 

On Thursday Apple said it would begin allowing used parts to be installed in "select iPhone models" this fall. It's not clear from Apple's release which models will be repairable with used parts, though John Ternus, Apple's SVP of hardware engineering reportedly said that it would only apply to iPhone 15 or later devices.

Used parts eligible for repair include screens, batteries and the like, and Apple said biometric sensors for Face and Touch ID would be supported in the future. As with all things Apple, don't assume this means Cupertino is giving up on things like the parts pairing strategy that has earned it the ire of right-to-repair advocates.

Apple said that it considers parts pairing "critical to preserving the privacy, security, and safety of iPhone." Nonetheless, it's making considerable changes to parts pairing that, in essence, remove most of the headache from the process.

Customers and repair shops currently have to call Apple to activate parts swapped into devices, otherwise their features are limited and pop-up messages warn users that a part isn't genuine. Once certified used parts are available for installation in iPhones, repair shops won't need to do this unless they've changed the logic board. 

Calibration of other genuine Apple parts, both new and used, will happen on the device - That means no need to call Apple when replacing a display or other part in order to unlock all its features under the changes that come in later this year. 

"With this latest expansion to our repair program, we're excited to be adding even more choice and convenience for our customers, while helping to extend the life of our products and their parts," Ternus said. 

Not everyone is thrilled with Apple's move. Kyle Wiens, CEO at iFixit, describes Apple's latest repairability move as just more obfuscation.

"This is a strategy of half-promises and unnecessarily complicated hedges designed to deflect attention from legislators intent on banning the practice [of parts pairing] altogether," Wiens told The Register.

Rob to repair stymied

Of course, you might ask, what's to stop miscreants from stealing iPhones to sell for parts? Apple's thought of that, and as such is expanding iPhone activation lock capabilities beyond devices to now include individual components. 

"[Activation lock] was designed to limit iPhone theft by blocking a lost or stolen iPhone from being reactivated," Apple said. "If a device under repair detects that a supported part was obtained from another device with Activation Lock or Lost Mode enabled, calibration capabilities for that part will be restricted."

Apple said it's also expanding the Parts and Service History feature in the Settings app to include whether a replaced part is new or used, a useful feature for people buying second hand. 

Used parts will still have to be scavenged, however: Repair shops and technicians won't be able to buy used parts from Apple, Ternus said, adding that Apple has no plans to apply the changes in repair policy to older devices. 

Parts pairing - a core component of Apple's former right to repair model - has been attracting increased attention from US states keen to pass their own right to repair laws, given the dearth of federal regulation on the matter. 

Case in point, Oregon recently passed a right-to-repair law that explicitly bans parts pairing when the law goes into effect next year. It's those sorts of laws that are behind Apple's decision, says the Public Interest Research Group's right to repair director Nathan Proctor.

"Make no mistake: The reason Apple is doing this is because Right to Repair is moving forward, thanks to the efforts of state lawmakers and our coalition of tinkers, fixers, makers and environmental and consumer advocates," he told The Register

"Companies that use software to prevent compatible spare parts from working fully make [the electronic waste] problem worse, while harming consumers and undermining local repair shops."

Colorado is also considering an electronics right to repair bill that bans parts pairing, further suggesting the tide is shifting, and not in Apple's favor. ®

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