Debullshitifying the Right to Repair excuses Apple sent to Congress

Apple's response to the Congressional committee investigating monopolistic behavior by tech giants contains a chapter on Right to Repair, whose greatest enemy is Apple -- the company led successful campaigns to kill 20 state level Right to Repair bills last year.

Apple's response was parsimonious with the truth.

Ifixit (previously), a business that sells tools and manuals to the independent repair sector, has published a detailed rebuttal calling Apple's response "intentionally misleading."

The response shows how using misleading terminology and by mischaracterizing its own history, Apple makes it sound like it embraces the independent repair sector, when this is far from the truth.

Last January, Apple CEO Tim Cook sent a letter to his investors warning them that the biggest risk to Apple's profits was that its customers were not replacing their Iphones as often as they used to, so any repairs that extend the lives of those products constitute a major risk to Apple's bottom line.

21. For each year since 2009, please identify the total revenue that Apple derived from repair services.

Apple: “For each year since 2009, the costs of providing repair services has exceeded the revenue generated by repairs.”

Unsurprisingly, most media outlets are a bit taken aback by this statement, including BBC, Engadget, PCMag, and, with quotes from Right to Repair advocates, Vice’s Motherboard. In addition to the sticker shock familiar to anybody who’s asked after Apple repairs ($280 iPhone X screens, $600 ribbon cable replacements pre-Flexgate, $1,200 MacBook board repairs), there’s the complicating cost of Apple’s self-inflicted recalls: low-cost batterygate replacements, the keyboard service program, and the like. Apple product warranty claim costs per quarter, 2003-2019, in millions of U.S. dollars. via WarrantyWeek.

Apple’s annual reports state that the company spent $4.1 billion on warranty claims in 2018. The company set aside just under $4 billion for those costs, anticipating an average amount of warranty service for every device sold. Elsewhere, Apple claims $24 billion in net revenue from “Services,” which includes AppleCare, but also the App Store, iCloud, Apple Music, and lots of other stuff. Does Apple count underutilized AppleCare subscriptions as “revenue generated by repairs?” We don’t know.

An Apple attorney, responding on the record to Congress, is stating some kind of truth here. But almost nobody can double-check the math without knowing what constitutes repair revenue and cost. As Warranty Week puts it, Apple’s warranty cost estimate: “[P]rovides no details about the calculations it makes, or how [its] estimates are made. Nor does it reveal any information about the average historical or projected cost per claim. It just merely says they exist.”

At iFixit, we have some experience with pricing out repair parts and estimating the labor costs involved with repair. When you factor in AppleCare revenue, new devices that were bought instead of fixed, and the unknowable math of their warranty accounting, it’s hard for us to believe they lose money. Independent repair shops make money on repairs and charge significantly less than through Apple.

Apple Told Congress How Repair Should Work. They Were Intentionally Misleading. [Kevin Purdy/Ifixit]

Right-to-Repair Groups Don't Buy Apple’s Answers to Congress [Lauren Goode/Wired]

(Image: Thilo Parg, CC BY-SA, cropped)