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Apple lifts some restrictions on iPhone repairs

ULYSSES ORTEGA/THE NEW YORK TIMES
                                Shakeel Taiyab, an independent repair technician, replaces the battery on an iPhone 12 using Apple’s certified repair equipment, in South San Francisco, in May 2022. Apple said today that it would relax limits on repairing newer iPhones with used parts including screens, batteries and cameras, a reversal from its previous practice of using software to encourage people to work with new and more expensive Apple-approved parts.
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ULYSSES ORTEGA/THE NEW YORK TIMES

Shakeel Taiyab, an independent repair technician, replaces the battery on an iPhone 12 using Apple’s certified repair equipment, in South San Francisco, in May 2022. Apple said today that it would relax limits on repairing newer iPhones with used parts including screens, batteries and cameras, a reversal from its previous practice of using software to encourage people to work with new and more expensive Apple-approved parts.

SAN FRANCISCO >> Apple said today that it would relax limits on repairing newer iPhones with used parts including screens, batteries and cameras, a reversal from its previous practice of using software to encourage people to work with new and more expensive Apple-approved parts.

The change comes weeks after Oregon passed a law outlawing Apple’s practice of tying parts to software, which is known as “parts pairing.” Similar bills are being considered in Colorado and more than a dozen other states. Apple had objected to the Oregon legislation before its passage, saying customers could be made vulnerable to security risks if Apple was required to allow lower-priced parts made by third-party suppliers.

In the past, if an iPhone owner broke a part — a screen, for instance — and installed a genuine, used Apple screen purchased from a source such as eBay, the replacement display would not work properly because its serial number did not match the one in Apple’s database. The only way to install a fully functioning replacement part was if it was bought from Apple, which had the tools to pair the part with the phone.

Apple’s new policy will remove those restrictions for the iPhone 15, which it released last year. Apple said the change would begin this fall and apply to genuine Apple parts, meaning those made by iPhone suppliers. When a genuine replacement part is installed, the phone will work with it automatically, without requiring a technician to provide a serial number to Apple. The replacement part will then work seamlessly with the iPhone.

The reversal comes about five months after The New York Times published an analysis of Apple’s increasing restrictions on iPhone repairs, which drove up costs for consumers.

In its news release announcing the change, Apple said that the change would streamline its parts-pairing process on some iPhones for used Apple screens, batteries and other parts to simplify repairs — not those components made by third-party suppliers. Those parts are typically less expensive and could save customers money on repairs. Replacing a shattered screen at an Apple Store costs roughly $300, about $100 more than work done by an independent shop using a third-party screen.

An Apple spokesperson said people could install third-party parts but iPhones would continue to use software to alert them when that was done because the company considered it important to customer security and safety. He pointed to a study funded by Apple that showed that the majority of third-party smartphone batteries had failed safety tests and some had caused fires.

Nathan Proctor, who has lobbied states for repair legislation on behalf of U.S. PIRG, a nonprofit largely funded by small donors, said the move was a small step in the right direction. It never made technical sense for Apple to place restrictions on installing authentic Apple parts for repairs, he said.

“It was always a preposterous and ridiculous practice,” Proctor said.

Starting in January, Oregon’s law requires Apple and others to begin allowing customers to use any part they want in repairs — even those unapproved by the original smartphone-maker. Apple would face a penalty of $1,000 a day for failing to comply with the law starting in 2027.

When the Oregon bill was passed, Apple said it would support repair legislation but added that the “bill does not offer the consumer protections Oregonians deserve.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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