The “right to repair” is a growing consumer empowerment movement that advocates say is long overdue and will benefit both consumers and the environment in the long run.
Naturally, big tech has opposed right-to-repair legislation, fearing it will cut into profits because consumers will try to fix or take their devices to a repair shop instead of throwing them out when they malfunction or age. But Apple, Inc. sent a letter to the bill’s Senate sponsor, announcing that they have no objections to the bill in its present form.
The California legislation, SB 244, would require manufacturers “to make available, on fair and reasonable terms, to product owners, service and repair facilities, and service dealers, the means, as described, to effect the diagnosis, maintenance, or repair of the product,” according to the tech website 404 Media.
Apple’s move represents a sea change from where the tech giant was just several years ago, when its lobbyists were telling lawmakers that allowing consumers to repair their iPhones would turn specific states into a “Mecca” for hackers and bad actors. Apple and other electronics manufacturers, represented by large industry lobbying groups, have spent millions fighting right to repair legislation, which would require them to make repair manuals, parts, and tools available to the general public.
Slowly but surely, thanks to activists and consumers, as well as support from the Biden administration, manufacturers have realized that they need to take steps to make repair more accessible. Microsoft, Apple, Google, Motorola, and Samsung have all introduced ways to purchase parts directly from the company or from authorized third parties like iFixit
A tech-ignorant dummy like myself would probably forgo the pleasure of trying to repair my own device, but having the option of being able to take my phone, laptop, or desktop to a local repair shop is a step forward and might even encourage me to hang on to my device a little longer.
Of course, this has been Big Tech’s fear about this legislation.
There are some potential drawbacks to a right to repair, the biggest being safety.
One of the strongest arguments against the right to repair is user safety. Tech today is no longer as simple as it used to be; it has become more complicated, interconnected, and harder to fix by oneself without professional help or expertise. That means you trying to fix your smartphone is not the same as your grandpa trying to fix a cassette player.
Digging into your tech devices yourself can be dangerous as they house combustible materials and sharp metal parts. Any sort of serious mishandling can result in you requiring urgent care. Plus, when user fixes go wrong and hurt the device owner, it can deeply impact a company’s image as their products are then seen as a hazard—similar to what happened with the exploding Samsung Galaxy Note 7.
There’s also the problem, from Big Tech’s point of view, of consumers hanging on to their devices longer than they did previously. The manufacturers claim that the right to repair will stifle innovation because Big Tech won’t be as eager to improve their products.
In a competitive business environment where every customer wants to get the best bang for their buck, it’s not a viable long-term business strategy to make your products more repairable and long-lasting. You’d essentially be cannibalizing your future sales.
If buyers can use your products for years by simply repairing them once in a while, you won’t have any regular inflow of repeat customers. And without recurring customers, you’ll have a hard time trying to generate enough revenue to survive, let alone expand.
That’s not the consumer’s concern. In fact, the right to repair may spur innovation and drive down the cost per unit of electronic devices. Businesses will adapt or die.
And that’s what capitalism is all about.