The Grave Insult of Being Sent the Proper Tools to Perform a Complicated Task

Last weekend The Verge ran a piece by Sean Hollister under the headline “Apple Shipped Me a 79-Pound iPhone Repair Kit to Fix a 1.1-Ounce Battery”. Sometimes I read an article that’s so absurdly and deliberately wrongheaded, I worry that I’m reading it wrong. That it’s not jackassery, but an attempt at satire that I’m missing. I had that moment with this one.

But this one is jackassery, and it starts with the headline. Why in the world would the weight of the tools necessarily correlate in any way to the weight of the component being replaced?

Hollister, up front:

That Apple would even let me buy those parts, much less read its manuals and rent its tools, is a major change of pace for the company. For years, Apple has been lobbying to suppress right-to-repair policies around the country, 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 DIY advocates. But having tried the repair process, I actually can’t recommend it at all — and I have a sneaking suspicion that Apple likes it that way.

The thing you should understand about Apple’s home repair process is that it’s a far cry from traditional DIY if you opt for the kit — which I did, once I saw the repair manual only contains instructions for Apple’s own tools. (You can just buy a battery if you want.)

I expected Apple would send me a small box of screwdrivers, spudgers, and pliers; I own a mini iPhone, after all. Instead, I found two giant Pelican cases — 79 pounds of tools — on my front porch. I couldn’t believe just how big and heavy they were considering Apple’s paying to ship them both ways.

If you could properly replace an iPhone battery with a couple of simple tools, Apple would surely just send you the simple tools. But if that were the case there’d be no need for this program. They’d just tell you how to do it and send you the replacement parts. You know, like they do for telling you how to replace the battery in an AirTag.

And are we really expected to take Hollister seriously that he expected smaller tools because his iPhone is a Mini? Again, I wonder if I’m falling victim to a prank. Sean Hollister cooks a pizza at home: I was expecting to use a couple of matches or a butane lighter but the recipe required an oven that goes to 800 degrees. That’s crazy! Why would anyone need an 800-degree oven to cook a simple pizza?

One possible explanation for the complexity and heft of Apple’s self repair toolkit is that iPhones are intricate devices, which require numerous special tools and machines to open and operate upon, along with expert instructions. And that even with the expensive tools and machines, and detailed instructions, they require careful attention to do it right. As with most such tasks, experience helps greatly. Thus Apple has, heretofore, concentrated its repair policies on having iPhones (and other devices) serviced by Apple itself or by certified, trained, trusted partners. And that for the Self Service Repair Program to work, self-repairers will need the same professional tools and machines and detailed instructions. This is necessarily expensive and complicated, and even with that said, there’s nothing Apple can do to bestow experience upon self-repairers. There is nothing Apple can do to make such repairs quick or easy.

Hollister seems to allude to some sort of spitefulness on Apple’s part. That they ship to self-repairers 79 pounds of equipment not because the task requires 79 pounds of equipment but instead out of pettiness, to discourage people from participating in the Self Service Repair Program. But why would Apple do this? I know some people believe — wrongly — that Apple runs its official service program for out-of-warranty devices as some sort of moneymaking enterprise. It’s the same sort of cynical “they’re all crooks” thinking that leads people to believe Apple sabotages older iPhones with new software updates to slow them down and decrease battery life to prompt people to buy new iPhones.

The Occam’s Razor explanation is that Apple makes it seem like iPhones are difficult to repair because iPhones are, in fact, difficult to repair. What exactly does Hollister think Apple should do differently?

Should there be a step in the Self Service Repair Program where you’re asked whether you’d like to perform the repair correctly with the proper tools and machinery, or do it half-assed without the proper tools?

As I take it, the people who’ve long asked for Apple to support self-service repair have been asking for respect. Don’t treat us like babies who need help. Treat us with respect and give us what we need to repair our devices ourselves.

That’s exactly what Apple’s done. It’s not an insult to send you 79 pounds of professional equipment. It’s respect.

Hollister’s article makes clear that even with these expensive tools and machines, doing a battery swap on an iPhone is arduous. How well does he think it would go if he were equipped with “a small box of screwdrivers, spudgers, and pliers”?

Regarding the cost of the self-service repair program, Hollister writes:

What surprised me was the price tag.

  • $69 for a new battery — the same price the Apple Store charges for a battery replacement, except here I get to do all the work and assume all the risk.
  • $49 to rent Apple’s tools for a week, more than wiping out any refund I might get for returning the old used part.
  • A $1,200 credit card hold for the toolkit, which I would forfeit if the tools weren’t returned within seven days of delivery.

Let’s be clear: this is a ridiculous amount of risk for the average person who just wants to put a new battery in their phone. And it’s frankly weird for Apple to insist on you covering the full value of the tools. “It’s not like when you rent a car they make you put down $20,000 as a safety deposit,” my colleague Mitchell Clark points out.

So the battery itself costs the same as an in-store repair. Does Hollister think the battery should be cheaper? Should Apple rent these expensive tools free of charge? (The $49 rental fee includes shipping both ways, and as Hollister points out repeatedly, the two cases combine to weigh 79 pounds. At $49, Apple may well be losing money on the tool rentals, and it’s hard to see how they could be doing better than breaking even.) As for the $1,200 credit card hold, it is true that car rental agencies don’t charge a deposit for the full price of the vehicle — but that’s because they’re an entirely different business, with entirely different insurance policies to cover stolen and damaged vehicles. What percentage of car renters even have a credit card with a limit that can accommodate the full replacement cost of a car? But when you rent other types of professional tools, like say cameras, it’s common to require a deposit for the cost of the equipment. And even when renting a car, you are charged a significant deposit.

And while Apple’s own description of the deposit describes it as covering “the full replacement value of the tools inside”, I sincerely doubt that buying this same equipment would cost only $1,200. The Pelican cases that hold the tools alone probably cost $500 or more.

If you really think an iPhone battery or cracked screen should be serviceable with nothing more than “a small box of screwdrivers, spudgers, and pliers”, what you’re really asking for is for iPhones (and all other modern computing devices) to be designed, engineered, and assembled in altogether different ways. That sounds great, of course, but that’s not how modern mobile devices work. Apple isn’t an outlier in this regard — there are no popular modern mobile devices that are easily serviceable with simple tools. If it were possible for iPhones to be more easily repairable, without sacrificing their appearance, dimensions, performance, water and dust resistance, and cost, Apple would make them more easily repairable. That iPhones are not easily repairable is of no benefit to Apple whatsoever. What’s the theory otherwise? That $69 in-store battery replacements are highly profitable? That Apple wants to spend tens of thousands of dollars per store on repair tools? They’d save millions of dollars per day if a Genius could replace any iPhone battery with no more than a screwdriver. You don’t have to like the reasons, but there are obvious reasons Apple doesn’t build its devices that way. And if you’re reporting on Apple repairs you should address them rather than feigning ignorance.

Again, the simple question left unanswered by Hollister: What exactly does he think Apple should do differently?