Apple and Right to Repair

Photo by Revendo on Unsplash

Since its conception, I’ve supported the right-to-repair movement. However, I haven’t been motivated to participate in the movement until today, when I tried to fix my MacBook Pro. You see, from time to time, MacBook batteries fail to charge, be it to preserve battery health, being connected to weak power sources, performing heavy workloads, or just incurring software bugs. And yesterday, my MacBook failed to charge.

So today, I’m trying to fix it. However, the process has taken over an hour so far, and all I’ve done is try to remove the six tiny screws in the backplate. And the reason why this is so difficult and has taken so long is because I don’t have the proper tools, because the proper tools are obscure, locally unavailable, and cost $129 from iFixit. My alternative is to schedule an appointment with the Genius Bar, which will require driving to an Apple store, explaining to them the problem, and then being charged a repair fee for what should otherwise be a simple, free operation.

Instead, I’m fighting with the world’s smallest screws while attempting to perform what should be the world’s most basic task. And my MacBook not charging yesterday wouldn’t have been much of a problem were it not that it stopped charging exactly when I needed it to charge — meaning, right when my battery was about to die. I received a notification from the system that I was at 10% battery, so I plugged in the computer and continued doing what I was doing. But the computer started lagging, so I checked the battery and saw that it wasn’t charging. And this problem can usually be fixed by restarting the computer. But MacBooks don’t restart without sufficient power, and my 3% battery remaining was insufficient.

So I searched online and followed Apple’s instructions for resetting the system management controller (SMC) using keystrokes. But it didn’t work. So I thought I’d just disconnect and then reconnect the battery, as this accomplishes the same thing. However, upon flipping over the computer, I discovered the first defense line of Apple’s infamous screws — impossibly small, irregularly shaped, and, without proper tools, impossible to remove. And I sighed. “Whatever,” I thought, the end of the day weighing on me. “I’ll fix it tomorrow.”

Well, it’s tomorrow now, and I’ve been at this for an hour, and my hands are raw, and the back of my MacBook is scratched. And I’m frustrated, bruh — but not just because this situation is annoying, nor because it doesn’t have to be and shouldn’t be annoying, but also because I have things to do, and I need my computer to do them. Like most people in the world — and especially like everyone at Apple — I use my computer for work. But I’ve now lost (and will continue to lose) hours of productivity over what should be only minutes of inconvenience.

What makes this problem worse is that I didn’t cause it; Apple did. For some reason, from time to time, the batteries in MacBooks fail to charge. And perhaps this is just the cost of having batteries in MacBooks, or the cost of owning a MacBook — that sometimes you’ll have to restart the computer, reset the SMC, disconnect and then reconnect the battery, or replace the battery — in other words, that sometimes you’ll have to perform maintenance to keep the thing running smoothly. Fine; it’s a small price to pay for magic. However, when I can’t perform such maintenance for a problem I didn’t create, and when my not being able to do so creates cascading problems for me — such as lost time, productivity, and money by not being able to work and by having to service the machine for something I should be able to do myself — ya boi gonna get mad.

Apple, what the hell? Honestly, from a company that seeks to enable, what is the philosophy behind these restrictions? What do you care what people do with their stuff? If I buy a computer from you, then the computer is mine; if I give you money in exchange for metal, then you transfer ownership of the metal to me. However, requiring customers to return to you for service by making it impossible for us to access our hardware is immoral; it’s greedy and manipulative and antithetical to your values.

So consider revising your philosophy regarding repairability, and seek, as you do with all other aspects of your company, to enable your customers; indeed, make repairability synonymous with accessibility, and approach the repairability of your hardware with as much fervor as you do the accessibility of your software — in other words, devote your lives to the cause.

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Mitchell Ferrin

Mitchell Ferrin

I write about writing and editing and also share occasional thoughts on things. mitchellferrin.com