Apple is notorious for making beautiful, seamless products that are increasingly impossible to take apart. You have to squint and watch a pile of YouTube videos and buy special tools to even open up a MacBook Pro these days, and even once you’ve done so it’s unlikely you’ll be able to fix much of anything on your own. That's part of the reason the recently retired Butterfly keyboard was such a disaster — when a single cookie crumb ruined it, you couldn't simply replace the problem key because the whole thing was one piece.
Laptop refurbisher and art-maker Josh Bumstead posted a photo on Twitter last month that makes it clear just how ridiculous this lack of repairability is, and how incredibly wasteful.
Bumstead is right to point out the problems with Apple’s repair policies. Rather than allowing these many, many MacBooks to be repaired, Apple would prefer rather they be scrapped so people are forced to buy new ones. This is nothing more than greed on the part of Apple — the company wants to control the refurb market and be the only company that can profit from repairs.
This is a long-standing issue, and it’s one that is slowly being fought via various legal challenges in a host of different countries. But sometimes it takes a massive pile of MacBooks to put the scale of the problem in perspective.
Why can’t this guy just repair them? — Lots of people replied to Bumstead asking the same question. The answer is simple: Apple won’t let him, or anyone for that matter. Because Apple manufactures its hardware in a way that makes it impossible — not just difficult, mind you, but impossible — for anyone to carry out most repairs themselves.
The T2 security chip, which is responsible for functions such as encrypted storage and Touch ID, also stops the MacBooks from being wiped. The chip was first introduced in 2018’s MacBook line; before that time, you could at least install a new operating system to allow an old machine to boot up. But in the last few years, Apple has actually made it more difficult to repair these machines.
You can’t even remove the MacBook hard drive anymore to work around these issues — it’s now part of the motherboard.
Enter the right-to-repair movement — The good news is there are plenty of people that are angry about Apple’s practices. An entire advocacy movement already exists around pushing for regulatory interventions to stop Apple from essentially bricking these machines. The groups call themselves “right-to-repair” advocates and have been slowly but surely working for meaningful change in this arena.
Apple isn’t the only target of their ire: other companies like Philips, Dyson, Samsung, and LG, have policies in place that void a product’s warranty if an independent contractor or device owner tries to repair the device themselves.
Bad for consumers, bad for the environment — This kind of policy is great for Apple. Because you have to take your device to an “authorized” repair shop, Apple makes money off every repair you ever make on your products that isn't covered by its warranties.
The flip side is that consumers are completely unable to carry out repairs themselves, even simple ones. It’s not possible to have your local IT guy take care of it, either. You have three options: pay Apple for the repairs, cash in on the parts, or let the device rot and pay to replace it.
This approach is awful for the environment, too. Digital waste is a huge problem, and Apple is a major contributor to it. All of these old MacBooks, iPhones, iPads and other products just sit around in the deep recesses of our closets, or worse, at the bottom of landfills.
The fact that the FTC is willing to listen to right-to-repair advocates and examine the potential for policy change is promising. Maybe someday we’ll be able to swap out our own hard drives at home. Like in the good old days.