Do you have the right to repair your iPhone, Mac, or iPad? The battle for that right is being waged in a few courtrooms across the country. At stake is the right to repair what you buy and use, whether it’s a John Deere tractor or an iPhone. The issue is complex and not likely to be settled soon because, well, it’s complicated.
Back in the day whenever some mechanical beast you bought decided to stop working, your choices for repair were simple. Take it back to where you bought it. Take it to someone who made a living repairing such broken items. Or, repair it yourself.
There were many times when I would come home from school to find our family car’s transmission lying on the dining room table, or the washing machine’s innards sprawled across the laundry room floor. Such repair events took place over a period of several days; first, as my father disassembled the device. Second, as he attempted to find out what was wrong and replace the wayward part. And, third, he worked to get it all put back together again with only a few parts left over.
Like it or don’t, those days are gone, and the number of devices which can be repaired by ourselves is dwindling in number. Now, however, we see lawsuits from plaintiffs against manufacturers for the right to repair.
What does that even mean?
The exact meaning varies a bit here to there, but falls into what is called the Massachusetts Right To Repair Initiative.
The Right to Repair proposal was to require vehicle owners and independent repair facilities in Massachusetts to have access to the same vehicle diagnostic and repair information made available to the manufacturers’ Massachusetts dealers and authorized repair facilities.
Varieties of the same general initiative are in courts and legislatures around the country, but in essence, approval in one state would require manufacturers to provide customers and repair shops access to information from manufacturers on how to repair their devices (ostensibly, with access to parts).
Here’s the problem.
Where does it end? I can understand why a consumer might want to replace an aging battery in a Mac or iPhone, but should that same consumer be given information to repair a motherboard or swap out specific chips soldered in the device.
No. The right to repair is a somewhat broken idea. If we let the market decide the issue, then it has already been decided. Generally speaking, we don’t want to repair our devices these days because doing so is time consuming, fraught with problems, and, more socially acceptable solutions exist (authorized repair or land fills, for example). I’m in favor of authorized dealer repair, which may also mean we can have the right to become such a repair place for our own use, but the vast majority of Mac, iPhone, iPad, and owners of other gadgets including automobiles, washers, dryers, microwaves, refrigerators and more don’t want the bother, time, and expense that comes with the notion that we can still repair what we buy.
We’re not talking about using superglue on a cherished ceramic figurine here. It’s how advanced that technology has become which changes the notion of ‘right to repair.’ The right is not sacrosanct. If electronics manufacturers are required to enable anyone and everyone the so-called right to repair their devices, and then are forced to design them in such a way that they can be repaired by the few who still wish to do so, then we all lose as manufacturing costs rise, complexities and opportunities clash, we would enter an era where nobody wins.
That said, should device manufacturers be required to provide sufficient tools and parts that independent repair outlets can perform certain repair functions? Yes. But who decides? The manufacturer? The repair associate? The device owner? State legislators (and it only takes one state)?