Apple’s sudden support for California’s right to repair legislation, Senate Bill 244, has left repair experts with questions about the company’s policy of parts pairing, otherwise known as serialization.
The decision to support a bill (via iFixit) that makes it easier for consumers to repair their electronics is not only unexpected, it also raises fresh questions about how Apple’s new position affects the company’s authorized-parts requirement. “I was shocked when I originally saw it. It’s so unlike Apple, but it’s a great step.” Ricky Panesar, founder of iCorrect, told me.
He continued. “I hope this means an end to paired parts, but can’t see it happening because they’ve built all their tech that way and it’s getting worse. But access to their cloud-based diagnostic and calibration tool would be amazing.
“Imagine taking your Apple device into your local repair shop and they can run Apple diagnostics to confirm the issues you’re having with your device. That would be cool. No pencil issue after a screen repair on iPad? Because you can now restore and pair the parts through their system. Now we’re dreaming.”
What Panesar is referencing is Apple’s policy of linking individual components to the logic board with unique serial numbers, which makes it harder for third parties to repair devices like the iPhone 14, iPad Pro and Macbook Pro.
Say you want to replace your iPhone display, you will need to use a genuine screen, which can only be purchased from Apple, and it must have a corresponding unique serial number. The parts have to be synced-up using Apple’s calibration software.
If you use a display from another iPhone, even the exact same model, some functionality might be disabled. This is also the case for unofficial components, which are known as aftermarket parts. For example, Panesar discovered that the Apple Pencil doesn’t draw straight lines if the display is replaced with a genuine screen from another iPad because the logic board didn’t recognize the serial number on the new screen.
According to Panesar’s tests, serialization has led to the loss of some features across Apple’s device range. If the iPhone 14 battery is replaced incorrectly, the battery health meter is lost. The Macbook Pro 2021 and 2022 screen will show a white shadow if it’s swapped out. This, repair experts say, makes independent repair difficult and, as Panesar explains, doesn’t match up with Apple’s sudden right to repair U-turn.
“I don’t think it’ll stop serialized parts, no. But if they can give access to their calibration system, then we go from serialized to calibrated. It’s only serialized because nobody outside the Apple network has access to their tools,” Panesar explained.
That coveted calibration tool, which syncs up serial numbers from new parts to the logic board, is only available to companies that are signed up to Apple’s Independent Repair Program. To become a member, companies have to sign an NDA about the repair process and their dealings with Apple.
The program has come under scrutiny previously because repair shops that sign up to it have to deal with small margins because of Apple’s high prices for parts. Some claimed it was only ever created to fend off potential right-to-repair legislation, like Senate Bill 244, which Apple now supports.
YouTuber Louis Rossman, who has a tech repair YouTube channel and is outspoken on serialization, explained why he never signed up for Apple’s repair program in a recent video.
“I have to sign a very restrictive NDA that opens me up to legal trouble, it also allows Apple to audit my business, look through and inspect my company and be able to get me in trouble for certain types of contraband like the chipsets that they don’t allow me to buy, that I buy from someone else. Or the LCD cells that they would not be selling me through their program, that I would be buying from somewhere else. This program makes it functionally impossible to operate as a good repair shop.”
In a letter to California Senator Susan Talamantes Eggman, Apple adds some conditions to its support, which references the use of replacement parts in its products, saying that it will support the policy so long as there are “requirements that repair providers disclose the use of non-genuine or used parts.” Whether the bill makes Apple’s calibration tool available to more people and companies—as Panesar hopes—or if Apple’s current setup complies with the new legislation, remains to be seen.