Apple Announces Half Measure to Make iPhones More Repairable Immediately After Law Banned Its Repair Practices

Apple will partially ease its "parts pairing" policy on the same day Colorado is considering a right-to-repair bill that would ban parts pairing, and weeks after Oregon banned the practice.
Apple Announces Half Measure to Make iPhones More Repairable Immediately After Law Banned Its Repair Practices
Image: iFixit

Seemingly magically and surely not coincidentally, Apple has announced that it will suddenly ease some of its “parts pairing” iPhone repair restrictions just weeks after Oregon passed a law banning this practice and on the same day that Colorado is considering a bill that would do the same. 

“Parts pairing” is a system in which an individual phone part is “paired” to a specific device, meaning that the same part from a different device, or an aftermarket part, will not work as a replacement. The way the parts are prevented from working is with a software restriction that prevents operation of the phone (or disables features) with a part until it is “paired” with the device by an Apple Store or “authorized” repair shop, meaning there is no way for a consumer or independent repair shop to pair a replacement part with a broken device.

“Today Apple announced an upcoming enhancement to existing repair processes that will enable customers and independent repair providers to utilize used Apple parts in repairs,” the company said in a press release. The release adds that this will happen “beginning with select iPhone models this fall,” and that “used genuine Apple parts will now benefit from the full functionality and security afforded by the original factory calibration, just like new genuine Apple parts.” 

What this means, practically, is that Apple will let you swap the screen of one iPhone with the screen of another iPhone, something that was impossible for a consumer or independent shop to do under the restrictions it has implemented on recent iPhone models. The current announcement will not allow for aftermarket parts to be used, which is a critical distinction. Aftermarket parts are widely used in other electronics, other companies’ smartphones, and they used to be widely used in iPhones prior to the parts pairing restrictions. U.S. warranty law also forbids the “tying” of official manufacturer parts to the validity of a warranty, which is not directly relevant here but shows that there is a long history of the U.S. government respecting the importance of a competitive and interchangeable parts market across a variety of products. 

Apple’s announcement is nominally a good development because it will expand repair options for consumers, and is better than the status quo. But it is also a half-measure, and the timing of this announcement makes it obvious that Apple is announcing this today, months before it will go into effect, in an attempt to weaken or kill legislation that would outright ban its repair policies.

As I mentioned, Apple is making this announcement immediately after a law it lobbied hard against was passed over its objections in Oregon. The announced new policy would not fully comply with Oregon’s law because that law fully bans parts pairing, and the new system Apple has proposed would allow consumers to only pair used, official parts, not aftermarket ones. Apple also made the announcement on the same day that a bill with identical language is being considered in the Colorado Senate, which means Apple is likely trying to make the argument that laws banning parts pairing are not necessary. The Colorado bill has already passed the House. It is not clear from the agenda whether Apple plans to testify at the Colorado hearing.

“This is their last, best chance they have to change parts pairing language,” Nathan Proctor, senior director of consumer rights group PIRG’s right to repair campaign, told me. “This is clearly a response to lawmakers acting to stop bad uses of pairing.”

“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 added. “Lawmakers should ban these repair restrictions fully, not just a few devices from one manufacturer. Just let people fix their stuff.”