Back in 2016, Apple was caught bricking devices that had previously been repaired by third-party companies. The company initially attempted to claim it had performed this task for the good of users in the name of security before reversing course. Apple has long attempted to maintain that customers must use authorized repair centers, in flagrant violation of US (and Australian) law. Now the company appears to be up to its old tricks again.
According to Vice, the iOS 11.3 update that Apple released in March is now killing touchscreen functionality in devices that were previously repaired by third parties. “This has caused my company over 2,000 reshipments,” Aakshay Kripalani, CEO of Injured Gadgets, a Georgia-based retailer and repair shop, told Vice. “Customers are annoyed and it seems like Apple is doing this to prevent customers from doing 3rd party repair.”
Apple actually had a similar issue surface last fall, separate from the Error 53 debacle, but fixed it shortly thereafter. The company’s decision to reintroduce it with iOS 11.3 is another example of Apple’s fundamental hostility to US law on this point. The FTC has been extremely clear on this point. Manufacturers, including Apple, are not allowed to prevent end users from using third-party repair services. They are not allowed to tell end users that doing so will void their warranties. They are not allowed to refuse warranty service simply because a third-party repaired an unrelated issue.
Apple continues to do its best to design components that third parties can’t repair. It’s a way for the company to push everyone towards AppleCare, thereby paying Apple more money
Cupertino, however, may have picked the wrong time to pick this fight. The FTC literally just sent out notification letters to six companies, including one identified as a cell phone manufacturer. We don’t know which firms were picked, but we haven’t exactly read much lately about how Samsung or LG was sabotaging third-party repair businesses. Statistically, Apple is the more likely candidate for this kind of message, particularly given how hard it has fought to argue that certain kinds of legal activity (like jailbreaking) are actually illegal.
If Apple succeeds in its goal to make iPhones irreparable, this’ll largely be a moot point. The company managed to create an incredibly difficult-to-replace back for the iPhone 8 this year, and the price to fix the iPhone X for anything but a cracked screen is more than half the base cost of the phone.
Apple has never been thrilled with the existence of a third-party market, but the company has become markedly more user-hostile in recent years. If the FTC’s letter doesn’t lead to a prompt behavior adjustment, an investigation might be in order.
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