Dark side of Apple’s Independent Repair programme coming to South Africa

iPhone and Mac repairers should carefully consider whether they would benefit from joining Apple’s Independent Repair Provider (IRP) programme, which will be launching in South Africa soon.

According to Apple, the idea of the IRP programme is to give third party repair shops access to genuine Apple parts, tools, repair manuals, and diagnostics to offer safe and reliable repairs for out-of-warranty Apple products.

To qualify, repair providers need to commit to have an Apple-certified technician perform the repairs at a walk-in shop.

This individual will be required to pass exams through an online Authorised Testing Centre.

Following a successful application, qualifying repair providers can buy certain genuine Apple parts and tools at the same prices as Apple Authorised Service Providers (AASPs).

Membership for the Independent Repair Provider programme is completely free, which may lead repair shops to believe they have nothing to lose by joining.

However, according to reports from the US where the IRP programme has already been introduced, it appears to be of little value to independent repairers.

Core iStore

Currently, there are only two of AASPs in South Africa – iStore and Digicape.

This means that any person who wishes to have their Apple device repaired with a genuine component would have to visit one of those shops.

At face value, the introduction of the IRP would provide consumers with greater choice for high-quality repairs of their Apple devices – including iPhones and MacBooks.

MyBroadband spoke to a popular third party repair shop in Johannesburg who fixes Apple devices like iPhones, iPads, MacBooks, and iMacs, to hear whether they would be joining the programme and if they believed it would be of benefit.

The company said it has already applied to become an IRP programme partner and was hoping to start using it as soon as possible.

“We feel the need for Apple to acknowledge third party repairs in South Africa. This would add a lot of value to our clients,” the repairer said.

“We wanted to join this programme as it would allow us to be competitive and offer an even better service to our insurance clients.”

“This would also enable us to repair the iPhone 12 without error messages.”

The company told MyBroadband while it was currently unable to buy parts from Apple, it imported them directly from the same manufacturers which made the components for Apple.

It therefore did not have to use counterfeit products for repairs, even without IRP programme membership.

In addition, it offered a lifetime warranty on all parts replaced, with the exception of batteries and buttons that carry a 3 to 6 month warranty.

While the IRP programme was initially viewed as a step in the right direction from Apple, right-to-repair electronics advocates in the US have since grown sceptical of it.

In February 2020, Vice’s Motherboard obtained a copy of the contract businesses were required to enter into before being admitted to the IRP programme.

Lawyers have labelled the terms in this contract as “crazy” and “onerous”, stating that it would give Apple substantial control over partnering businesses.

Among these, Apple would be allowed to conduct unannounced audits and inspections of the partner businesses with the aim of identifying the use of “prohibited” repair parts.

In the case that it finds that more than 2% of a repair business’s transactions involved these products, it could impose a $1,000 (around R14,550) fine per transaction which occurred during the audit period.

Since the IRP programme only covers batteries, displays, cameras, speakers, and taptic engines, this introduces a problem for certain repairers who offer repairs of other components.

Since numerous other parts cannot be bought directly from Apple, they would have to be sourced elsewhere and would likely be labelled as “prohibited” due to being considered “counterfeit products or service parts” or parts that “infringe on Apple’s intellectual property”.

In addition, the contract implied that Apple would have the right to seize any of these components.

IRP programme members would therefore either have to severely limit repairs outside of Apple smartphones and the included genuine components, or risk significant fines.

Even if a company decides to leave the programme, the contract stated that Apple reserved the right to continue inspecting repair shops for five years.

In addition to the concerns around the contract, the expensive prices and elaborate processes involved in acquiring parts under the programme have also been slammed.

Prominent independent repair technician Louis Rossman has explained the predicament of one business owner who joined the programme.

The repairer claimed that Apple makes it extremely difficult to join and use the resources in the first place, and that membership itself was effectively “useless”.

Aside from a complicated sign up process, which involved numerous emails being sent back and forth between the repairer and Apple, another major caveat was the expensive pricing.

When replacing the battery, for example, partners need to provide the IMEI number of the pack to Apple.

This requires that they open the customer’s iPhone to check the battery to confirm if it is original or an aftermarket unit.

If the customer approves the repair, the shop can order the part. They then have to wait one or two weeks for it to arrive at a US repairer.

In a market where many consumers rely on their devices for day-to-day activities, having to wait for a repair can cause significant frustration and will likely turn customers to other shops which can perform faster fixes.

In addition, the component prices are expensive.

A Reddit post with a leaked price list of components from 2019 showed a replacement iPhone XR battery cost around $43.51 (R633) when returning a genuine battery.

However, without the genuine battery, a repairer would pay $127.00 (R1,847) for a new pack.

The repairer would also have to add a mark-up to make profit from the repair.

Several independent repairers in the US told Fox Business that this would make the asking price far more expensive than current rates, which is why they dropped their attempts to become members.

While it’s possible to buy stock in bulk for faster fixes, the repairer will have to put down the full amount for all the units without the refunds for sending back the original components.

This is a risky financial option, since the repairer has no way to know how many of his upcoming customers would actually have genuine components.

It should further be emphasised that IRPs are still classified differently from AASPs, which are able to carry out more repairs with access to Apple parts and diagnostic tools.

MyBroadband contacted Apple for comment on how its programme would work in South Africa in particular but did not receive comment by the time of publication.

The video below from Louis Rossman details several of the issues with the Apple IRP programme, as experienced by a business who became a member.

Now read: iPhone maker warns of component shortage until 2022

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Dark side of Apple’s Independent Repair programme coming to South Africa