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It must be a joke.
I felt that way again and again as I jumped through hoops to replace the battery in my phone. The repair process was part of it, but Apple makes it hard to get there.
Last month, Apple launched its Self- Service Repair program, which allows US customers to fix broken screens, batteries, and cameras on the latest iPhones using Apple's own parts and tools for the first time ever. I couldn't wait. My wife has never allowed me to live down the one time I broke her phone while using a hair dryer. I would make it right this time, with an official repair manual and genuine parts.
It's a major change of pace for the company that Apple would let me buy those parts, much less read its manual and rent its tools. Apple has been trying to suppress right-to-repair policies for years, with the company accused of doing everything it can to keep customers from repairing their own phones. It's easy to see this as a huge moment for advocates of the do-it-yourself method. I have a sneaking suspicion that Apple likes it that way, as I have tried the repair process and can recommend it at all.
Apple's home repair process is a far cry from doing it yourself. I was expecting a small box of screwdrivers, spudgers, and pliers from Apple, since I own a mini iPhone. I found two giant cases of tools on my front porch. I couldn't believe how big and heavy they were considering.
I took those cases to our office by taking them on a train to San Francisco. I put everything on a table.
The first step in opening an Apple device is using a machine to remove the screen. I wasn't microwaving a jelly-filled sock to loosen the Apple goop holding my screen down. You can rent an industrial-grade heat station that looks like a piece of lab equipment, right down to the big red safety dial, and you can release the emergency-off button.
I slip my phone in a heating pocket that has a ring of copper around the band to evenly distribute the heat and melt the seal around the screen.
That's how it's supposed to work. The heating machine threw an error code partway through my first attempt, and Apple's manual didn't explain what to do if that happens after you stuck your phone inside. I heating it twice in a row. That wasn't enough for my screen to pop up when the arm of the cup lifted the glass. I was forced to use a hidden knob to put more pressure on the cup, but I freaked out when I saw the cracks on the screen. It was just a piece of equipment.
I had trouble cutting through the softened glue holding the screen to the frame with Apple's single tiny cutter. The blade got caught when I wedged it under the corners of the screen, and I had to pull it out without sending my phone crashing to the ground. The kit comes with a tray to hold your phone in place, but nothing to hold the tray itself.
It's a bit of a chore to use a set of fancy Torque drivers to make sure you don't screw down the phone. I dropped Apple's tiny fasteners a dozen times while removing the metal that holds the screen and ribbon cables, and the speaker that Apple makes you yank to get at the battery. Apple requires three different screwdriver bits to remove the screen, and none of its bits are magnetized to keep the screws from slipping, so it is more difficult to repair.
There was still a lot of goopy glue around the sides of my phone. I gave up after 10 minutes of picking away at tiny fuzzy blobs of glue because the instructions said it would peel off in a few big pieces. I was just going to add more glue. This was not the best idea for me.
I couldn't help but wonder at my phone when it finally opened, and I realized I was having fun. It was great to open my phone. Not knowing if my phone would survive surgery was a big thrill.
It was time to swap out the battery. I used Apple's fancy battery press with a rolling arm to seat the new battery, but not destroy it. I would have liked to have had a tool to align the battery or a tool to test it, but I didn't have that. I will get to that.
Next, I was told to apply a precut sheet of glue to my screen, which was easy to fit into the right place and press down with my fingers. The phone was closed once more with a huge spring- loaded press. I didn't manage to remove the extra glue from the frame, so my screen wasn't perfectly flush with it.
I held down the power button when my phone was closed. Nothing. There was no response to the bright white Apple logo. For one horrible moment, I realized that Apple didn't have a way to test the battery and display connections, so I had to close up the phone.
Maybe the replacement battery shipped empty? I ran around the office to get a Lightning cable for my phone.
I wasn't done yet. The most frustrating part of the process was that my phone didn't recognize the genuine battery. You're expected to call Apple's third-party logistics company after the repair so they can verify the part for you. You have to give the company remote control and give your phone a restart in order to do that. It defeats a lot of the reasons you would repair your own device at home.
The second most frustrating part didn't happen during the repair. If it were me, I would have stopped the entire process before Apple shipped my equipment.
Apple has a history of resisting right-to-repair efforts. Before the iPhone, it was easy to replace a battery, but after it, phones became difficult to open without specialized tools, which pushed customers to replace their perfectly good devices when they might have only needed a new one. Also see batterygate.
The company has been lobbying against right-to-repair legislation in at least 20 states in the last few years. The bill died in committee again this week. If you repair your phone with non-genuine parts, Apple will throw warnings or even disabling features, though it walked some of that back after an outcry. Many refused to sign the contract that was put together for the repair shops.
I was not surprised by Apple's press release that warned customers away from their own repairs or when I needed to enter my phone. A more low-key or inexpensive approach is off the table because Apple only gives instructions on how to use its own special tools.
The price tag surprised me.
This is a huge amount of risk for the average person who just wants to replace their phone battery. It is weird for Apple to insist on you covering the full value of the tools.
I only had five days to do the job before the deadline because the Pelican cases landed at my door two days before the battery arrived.
The more I think about it, the more I realize that Apple's Self-service repair program is the perfect way to make it look like the company supports right-to-repair policies without actually encouraging them at all. Apple is giving consumers access to everything, even the same tools its technicians use, while scaring them away with high prices, complexity, and the risk of losing a $1,200 deposit. This way, Apple gets credit for walking you through an 80 page repair, instead of building phones where you don't need to remove the phone's most delicate components and two different types of security screws.
Shipping two 40-pound Pelicans can’t be cheap
The giant Pelican cases are proof to me. Even with corporate discounts, it would cost Apple a fortune to ship equipment to individual homes. It would cost us upwards of $200 to return those cases to their sender, even if we were far smaller than Apple. With your $49 rental, Apple offers free shipping both directions and a dedicated support team to help you with your returns. The support team told me they didn't have a driver within 250 miles of my location when they offered to pick up my battery.
I don't think Apple expects anyone to take up the offer of self-service repair kits. Taking your phone to an Apple Store can make you want to buy something new instead. The real victory will come in months or years. Apple can tell legislators that it tried to give right-to-repair advocates what they wanted, but consumers decided Apple knows best.