October 2, 2023


Unlimited Technology

Apple products get low marks in new repairability index

BOSTON — One of the largest sellers of smartphones and laptops ranks at the bottom of a new scorecard analyzing the repairability of their products and whether the company supports digital right to repair policies.

The scorecard, released by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, ranks top laptop and cellphone manufacturers based on their average repair scores and support for laws like legislation in Massachusetts that would require digital electronics manufacturers to make repair tools and information available to product owners and independent repair shops.

The scorecard gives Apple a 3.16 out of 10 for the repairability of its laptops and a 2.75 out of 10 for the repairability of its cellphones. Salem Techsperts owner Andy Harding said the lockdown on information and parts for Apple iPhones frequently prevents him from saving customers “a lot of money.”

He pointed to a component called the earpiece flex that helps run the iPhone 10’s Face ID feature. If it’s damaged by water, the device refuses to power up, he said.

Several customers of his, he said, went to Apple to get their devices fixed but “Apple told them they need to buy another device and it’s not fixable when they bring it to me.”

“Of course, I unplugged the earpiece flex, which takes 30 seconds and the phone boots up again, but I’m unable to repair that part because Apple has programmed it to be encrypted with the board itself,” he said. “That means if you replace it with another aftermarket part, it won’t work, you’ll lose Face ID.”

He said he supports so-called digital right to repair legislation in Massachusetts because “I want Apple to give me the tools I need so I can help consumers.”

A request for comment to Apple’s media department went unanswered.

Opponents of the bill say intricate cellphones, laptops or other electronic devices should be handled by trained individuals. At a hearing in early October, opponents said most manufacturers already provide product repair and support.

Entertainment Software Association State Government Affairs Director Matt Lenz said the bill could affect video game console producers like Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo and promote pirated video games. All three console makers offer repair services, he said, beyond the warranty period to keep the devices in good working condition.

At the October hearing, he said certain console parts protect creative works and prevent illegal device modifications that could result in pirated games.

“Once the consoles’ (technological protection measures) are disabled, two worrisome events can occur. First, the game experience for players is diminished, sometimes dramatically, which could be seen as a flaw in the console or the game,” he said. “And two, any number of illegal, copied games from the internet could be played on the console.”

The Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee reported the bill favorably on Feb. 10 and it now sits before the Senate Ways and Means Committee, which is chaired by Westport Democrat Sen. Michael Rodrigues.

Kevin O’Reilly, right to repair campaign director for U.S. Public Interest Research Group, pointed to a French grading system for repairability and durability of electronic devices. Part of the measure requires the European Union to create labels for consumer products to help people who are buying electronics.

Scored out of 100 and then compressed into a 1-10 scale, the grading system looks at everything from availability of repair documentation, ease of disassembly, availability of spare parts, affordability of spare parts, and device-specific categories. That score is then displayed as a label on the product.

That system was factored into the scorecard released last week. O’Reilly said the scorecard focuses particularly on ease of disassembly “because this is more universal of the different ratings that the French repair score gives.”

The scorecard gives Dell, Asus, Lenovo, and Acer laptops between a 6.5 and 7.9 out of 10, Hewlett-Packard a 6.39, and Microsoft a 4.6. For cellphones, Motorola took top spot with 7.77, Samsung a 5.69, and Google a 4.64.

“No one walks into the store and says I’m gonna buy something that I can’t fix today. That’s not something that consumers want to do,” O’Reilly said. “But increasingly, the products that we buy are hard to fix, and there’s no way of knowing whether or not you can actually repair them.”

This article originally appeared on MetroWest Daily News: Apple laptops, cellphones score low in new repairability index

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