Apple’s new Self Service Repair program is an opportunity to repair relationships

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Apple’s newly announced Self Service Repair program, set to launch in early 2022, will finally provide individual customers access to genuine Apple OEM parts and manuals for DIY iPhone (and eventually Mac) repairs. Although this program has limitations, and there are many lingering questions about how it will be implemented, it is an opportunity for Apple to improve relationships with its customers by making repairs easier. If Apple prices the parts right, the program could also be a way for motivated customers to save money on repairs by going DIY while allowing independent repair shops to remain competitive.

Until now, access to factory OEM parts for iPhones and Macs has been restricted to several Apple-blessed places, including Apple Authorized Service Providers (AASP), Apple Stores, and Apple Independent Repair Providers (IRP), a program that allows independent shops to gain access to genuine Apple parts, tools, and training guides for common out-of-warranty Mac and iPhone repairs. Apple’s new self-service program — just like the IRP program — is focused only on screen, battery, and camera repairs when it comes to iPhones.

Apple plans to become the main resource for individuals looking for access to parts and manuals — promising “more than 200 individual parts and tools” for iPhone 12 and 13 models early next year. While that number sounds high given that the self-service program will launch with parts for just two models of iPhones, Kevin Purdy, a writer for online repair guide site iFixit, found it believable. Apple, he says, could sell various adhesives, specialty tools, individual screws, custom presses, electrostatic discharge mats, and much more.

Illustration of girl at a workbench with various tools preparing to work on a replacement screen for an iPhone 12 or 13 pro

This illustration from an Apple press release depicts at least 10 parts and tools for a single repair coming out of one shipping box.
Image: Apple

These parts are already available to Apple service providers, and the prices are pretty high because the devices are so new. Apple itself charges customers $279 to repair the screen of an iPhone 12 or iPhone 13 Pro. According to iFixit, members of Apple’s IRP program pay about $270 to stock up on these screens (nearly the same as what Apple charges for the repair). However, the out-of-pocket cost for IRP members is reduced to $235 if the old part is sent back, according to iFixit.

While Apple says that individuals using the Self Service Repair program will receive a credit back for the old part, it’s not clear how much money you can save by taking this path, and Apple didn’t respond to The Verge’s request for comment on the matter. In my experience as a former employee of Apple, I recall that it was also Apple Store policy to not allow customers to take back old parts from the repairs we did for them (including bad hard drives from Macs). Based on how important bad part returns seem to Apple, whatever credit Apple will offer to customers using the self-service program could be significant enough to motivate old part returns.

In the Ron Johnson era of Apple retail, I worked as a Genius repairing many Macs and early-model iPhones in an Apple retail store. While many of the repairs were expensive on paper, our employee training specifically taught us to provide some repairs for free to promote customer satisfaction, as long as devices didn’t show signs of abuse. Those policies tightened noticeably after Johnson’s departure in 2011, with John Browett taking over as SVP of Apple retail and focusing on cutting costs. That same year, Apple also introduced the AppleCare Plus service plan add-on for iPhones, in which accidental damage is covered after paying a $49 service fee. Despite the changes, other former employees have talked about how Apple’s push to “surprise and delight” customers can still lead to customers getting free in-store repairs. Whether that will change in the era of self-service is unclear.

Normally, you could save money by buying aftermarket parts, but right now, aftermarket OLED screens for an iPhone 12 range from $279.99 (iFixit) for just the part to $329.99 (Amazon) for a full kit, which is a heavy cost. Going aftermarket also adds the risk that quality might not be as good as factory OEM pieces, and some parts could lose functionality, such as Apple’s True Tone adaptive screen feature. In theory, customers could save money via Self Service Repair if Apple priced the parts comparable to what IRPs currently pay. However, then IRPs would lose out on business unless Apple offered them a further discount on parts compared with the self-service program.

Another potential way individuals might use the self-service program is to stock up on parts like independent shops in the IRP program can do. Apple might choose to differentiate the IRP program and the Self Service Repair program by not allowing individuals to stock up, however, making it harder for DIY folks trying to plan ahead for devices they’ll want to repair in the future.

In general, it’s going to be people with older phones who are more likely to need a repair, and right now, Apple’s Self Service Repair program won’t help them. iFixit CEO Kyle Wiens notes that replacement batteries aren’t necessary for most customers until about a year and a half after the phone was purchased, when battery cells start depleting. While Wiens is overall excited about Apple’s announcement and direction, he believes that the self-service program is primarily Apple’s strategy for getting out in front of potential regulatory action from FTC and even pressure from its own shareholders over the right to repair. Apple has also been under scrutiny from lawmakers over its restrictive repair practices.

Despite its limitations, there is hope that Apple’s new program will empower more DIY repair folks and perhaps give an opportunity to save some cash. And if a customer gets cold feet when the kit arrives, they might have another option: taking it to a local repair shop that doesn’t have access to genuine Apple parts. That shop could then charge a small fee and do the repair for them.

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