What is ownership when devices turn into services?

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APPLES PURPOSE has always been to empower the users of its goods. “People are naturally creative. You will use tools in ways the toolmakers never thought possible, ”said Steve Jobs, the late co-founder of the computer manufacturer. Hence, it has always been strange that the company would go to great lengths to discourage customers from repairing their products. Repair manuals were kept secret; Original spare parts were hard to come by; and recently, replacing the screen of the newest iPhone disabled the face recognition feature of the gadget.

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No longer. In a series of moves that surprised many, Apple promised a software fix earlier this month to make the new iPhone model more repairable, and announced on Nov. 17 that it would allow individuals to fix their devices and manuals To provide tools and parts. Even its critics applauded, especially the leaders of a growing global “right to repair” movement, including Kyle Wiens, head of iFixit, a website that sells parts and publishes free repair guides.

However, the likely impact of the Self Service Repair program is unclear. A new online shop will open from the beginning of next year. Owners who return used parts for recycling will receive credit toward a purchase. Independent repair shops can join in without signing onerous agreements with Apple. And most importantly, repairs made by individuals no longer void the warranty (damage caused by tinkering is not covered).

But the toolmaker sells less than it initially appears. Apple’s spare parts cost a pretty penny like its premium devices. A new screen for the iPhone 12 costs $ 268. It is also not clear to what extent Apple will make it easier to repair its devices. Since even replacing a battery pack requires removing the fragile screen, not many at home will try.

However, if Apple went further, its repair program could become a model for the smartphone and perhaps the broader electronics industry. Even the current shape will lead competing device manufacturers to follow suit. “When it comes to repairs, Samsung Electronics does even worse than Apple,” says Mr. Wiens. Apple’s move, he adds, has in one fell swoop invalidated many arguments that electronics companies make against easier repairing of devices, such as that people could get injured.

Apple has also managed to stay ahead of the regulatory trend, says Nabil Nasr from the Rochester Institute of Technology, who is involved in a study for the Group of Seven (G7) richest democracies over the life cycle of consumer electronics products. Regulators, he explains, are addressing the e-waste problem – it could soon become difficult for companies to meet all of the requirements. In America, for example, lawmakers in 27 states are now debating bills on the right to repair. The European Union is also moving towards the adoption of such rules.

Apple watchers wonder if the company will try the same strategy elsewhere in its store. For example, it could make preventive concessions in the heated controversy surrounding the regulation of the app store on the iPhone. On November 9, a California federal judge denied Apple’s motion to remain part of a recent judgment. This requires that app developers can inform their users by December 9th how they can pay for it directly and avoid Apple fees of up to 30% of the purchase price. Maybe Apple could loosen up there too.

This article appeared in the business section of the print edition under the heading “iMac, iPhone, iRepair”


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