CBC Video claims Apple's repair policies are abusive, but 'proof' falls far short

Posted:
in General Discussion edited October 10
A report from the CBC has attacked Apple's policies and practices regarding repairs, taking the company to task for expensive in-store repairs, coercing customers to buy new products in some cases -- but the publication shows a stunning lack of understanding of the scale of Apple's repair efforts, and leans too heavily on edge cases presented by a pair of respected "right to repair" proponents rather than actual observation.




The story from CBC's The National starts with an undercover sting on one Toronto Apple Store, with a "common problem" where the screen wasn't working properly. On inspection by one of the store's Geniuses, it was noted "there is a lot of liquid that's gotten on the inside," as water ingress indicator dots colored red confirming there to be water ingress.

The indicators led the Genius to advise the customer would "need to be looking at replacing quite a few components" due to the inferred damage. When pressed if it could be something else, the customer was advised that, "regardless of what the cause of it is," the liquid damage would have to be rectified as a priority, and that the store "can't do partial repairs when it's been damaged by something."

In terms of their options, the store employee advised it would cost a minimum of $1,200, with $600 and $500 quoted to replace the logic board and top case and $100 labor. If the display needs replacement, that would cost an extra $780.

When further pressed if there was a way to make it cheaper, the Genius advised the fee "is very close to the cost of buying a new computer. In terms of fixing it in the store? No."





The same MacBook Pro was taken to prominent YouTube repair personality and repair shop owner Louis Rossmann, who saw the same indicators in his inspection, but dismissed them as confirmation of immersion or liquid damage due to potentially being triggered by humidity. After discovering the display worked, but without a backlight, a bent pin in a display connector was found to be at fault, which was then pressed back in place as a repair within a few minutes.

Rossmann claims he could've provided a customer the repair for free as a short-term solution, one he believes would last for the remaining lifetime of the computer in the majority of cases. If the customer wanted a replacement cable as a longer-term solution, Rossmann estimates the cost to be between $75 and $150.

When queried how often customers turn up at his store after the Apple Store declines a repair or says it's too expensive to fix, Rossmann suggests it happens "somewhere between 10 and 30 times a day."

The report asked Apple to respond to this incident and allegations on the expensive repairs. A statement from Apple claims customers are best-served by "certified experts using genuine parts," and denies systematically overestimating the cost of repairs.

Repair outfit iFixit, known for its teardowns of Apple products and supply of support documents, parts, and tools was also featured in the video. Kyle Wiens, owner and spokesman for the national Right to Repair movement, advised it is "increasingly more challenging to get access to the information that you need, or for local shops to get the parts" for a repair, with the movement pushing for legislation to restore the ability for consumers to perform repairs.

via iFixit
via iFixit


"Apple's perspective is that it wants complete control over the device, from the moment that you buy it, all the way through to the end of life," asserts Wiens. "Right to Repair takes some of the control away from them, and puts it back into the hands of the owner. That's where for manufacturers to say 'we're making a product, putting it out in the world, and we'll control every aspect of what happens after the fact,' is complete lunacy."

Wiens goes on to show some of Apple's security practices to make it harder to repair products, including pentalobe screws and gluing batteries in place in an iPhone.

Repairing the Home button on an iOS device was previously considered an easy repair, the report claims, until Apple "reprogrammed its operating system to detect non-authorized Home buttons, and the phone would suddenly stop working." Without mentioning that the Home button also contains Touch ID and interfaces with Apple's Secure Enclave, Wiens likens it to putting aftermarket tires on a Tesla, then Tesla shipping a software update that would stop the car from working with those specific tires.

It "stems from a mentality that they are the center of the universe, and nobody is doing anything with their product," according to Wiens.

Apple is claimed to have sent legal threats to third parties who have published internal schematics and other documentation on its products, citing copyright infringement on the manuals, articles, and illustrations used for repairs. Threats of fines of up to $150,000 are noted, in a bid to get the shared information taken down.

The story then moves to the existence of Right to Repair legislation that would force Apple and others to provide manuals and other items, to aid in fixing problems with hardware. Campaigners believe that one state agreeing to introduce Right to Repair legislation would break the dam, with other states likely to follow suit in demanding manufacturers offer the resources to third parties.

Rossmann and iFixit have some legitimate points. CBC, on the other hand, does not.

Over-simplification of a complicated issue

The implication of the CBC video is that Apple takes the equipment that it gets back from customers and tosses it in a woodchipper, or feeds it to the Liam robot. This isn't the case, though.





Machines that are not captured by engineering for an evaluation of what went wrong are sent back to the depot for either repair and an ultimate destination of the refurbished device supply chain, or scavenging for parts which are then refurbished for other repairs. And yes, the refurbishment process uses people like Rossmann to make those repairs.

The iFixit organization is incredibly good at what they do, like partially dialing back the panic about the screen calibration software requirements for the T2-equipped MacBook Pro and iMac Pro -- but they do have to make money somehow. The company makes a living by selling repair parts and tools. They shouldn't be begrudged this of course, and more than one AppleInsider staffer has tools that they purchased from the vendor, obtained parts for repairs from the company, or both.

Rossmann is also very talented at his work, and is incredibly successful. We have sent people emailing us about a difficult or expensive repair to his shop to get a second opinion. But, the CBC's implication that Apple should source repair technicians at each store with that level of talent is ludicrous, and if Apple did it, it would remove any economy of scale that the company holds by using a depot for component-level repair.

Service by the numbers

In the last five complete fiscal years, Apple has sold approximately 1.36 billion devices. If you assume that one in a hundred of all of those devices fail from reasons other than user-induced damage like a broken screen per annum, that leaves 13.6 million failures per year. That one in a hundred is less than half the industry standard of 2.5 percent for high-end gear after the initial 30-day infant failure period spanning through the first year of a device's life, and one fifth the failure rate after that year.

If you assume that there are 5000 authorized repair centers -- about 10 times the amount of Apple Stores at present -- that leaves a very conservatively low estimate of 27,000 devices per year per location that need to be serviced beyond a software reinstall. This doesn't include smashed screens, replacement batteries, or other user-induced damage which according to data collected by AppleInsider, is about triple what a shop sees for failures with no known cause, even before Apple's discounted battery replacement program was put into place.




Like it or not, Apple is a consumer electronics business. Board-level repairs at retail locations are far, far quicker for the company, require less-skilled workers at retail which can be paid less than a Rossmann-level technician, and all of this combined can get a functional machine back to a consumer faster.

As an exercise for the reader, hang out at an Apple store on any given Saturday near the Genius Bar evaluation table, and see how many customers demand instant repair or head-of-the-queue privileges because they have a deadline, Billy's birthday was Saturday and his pictures are in the machine, or data is stuck in the broken machine and it must come out for work.

For historical perspective, data collated by AppleInsider going back to nearly 2000 suggests that Apple's move in the Mac ecosystem to more sealed devices like the 2012 Retina MacBook Pro and later have cut failure percentages in half. More on that in the coming months as we continue to evaluate the data, though.

The battery, again

And, of course, the CBC video brings up the whole iPhone battery saga again, without discussing that a battery is a chemical process that depletes and loses efficiency over time. Batteries aren't eternal, and are a consumable -- which Apple has always said, if perhaps not as vociferously as it should have.

We've talked about how this happens, why this happens, and Apple's response at some length before. So we won't be doing it here again.

via iFixit
via iFixit


Yes, Apple could have been more forthcoming with the iOS update that implemented the routines to prevent a device crash when voltage dropped below the critical threshold under load. However, AppleInsider still maintains that a device that doesn't crash but runs slower is still better than one you can't rely on in a pinch.

And, importantly, these devices with a properly functioning battery still move bits from register to register and perform operations just as quick as they did the day they were made.

Of course, we'd like the $29 battery replacement process to be carried forward in perpetuity, but it looks like it won't be.

Speaking of red herrings, why the CBC said that a video of a French tax protest with nationalist overtones was a protest about repairability isn't clear.

The problem with the "undercover" work

The device that the publication used had two problems -- one, a series of tripped moisture sensors, and two, a bent pin on a connector. The sole Genius that CBC talked to followed the established procedure as set forth by Apple to examine the moisture sensors first.

Procedures exist in all industries for a reason. The technician didn't exhibit so-called "malicious compliance" nor try to extort extra money out of the "customer," but did his job the way he was trained to do, followed the procedure the way he was supposed to, and performed at the level of experience he was expected to have.

If every Apple store had Rossmann, or somebody with similar skill and experience, do all of the device examinations then the bent pin would have been found. But, there's still larger issues of time, and those 27000 devices per year that come in to each shop that need detailed troubleshooting.

Examinations like Rossmann performs take time. They can take a lot of time. A detailed examination and repair is more often than not a multiple man-hour process from start to finish. Which is better for the average consumer, one hour in and out of the store like can happen now, or a lengthy diagnosis, and repair?.

Any service center can reject any repair, for any reason -- maybe you've heard us say this before. A botched repair, or damage induced by users tampering with equipment is specifically cited as a denial reason by Apple. This is done mostly for accountability reasons because the technician has no good way to tell what else has been damaged by the unusual failure mode.

Non-Apple Retail repair shops serve an important purpose

There are good, bad, Apple-authorized, and independent repair shops, and all the permutations of those four you can dream up. The key for the user is finding a shop that gives the user the best balance between affordability, repair turn-around, and quality.

The quality independent shops, like Rossmann's, will take jobs that Apple doesn't want to do, or won't do affordably -- like the "undercover" CBC MacBook Pro. This is a good thing.

Apple's repair rules at retail, established by Apple corporate for uniformity, are there for a reason -- including denials, and board-level repairs rather than component-level ones. Related to all this, regarding "right to repair" -- Apple not making repairs easy by supplying parts or manuals to any given user isn't the same as blocking those repairs, which it is still not doing. And like we said, iFixit demonstrated that just last week.

Apple has a vested interest in guaranteeing quality parts are available for repair. It also has a vested interest in preventing low-quality parts from entering the third-party supply chain -- if perhaps it enforces those rules far too vigorously for our taste.

Customers need Apple Stores to have Genius Bars. They also need venues like Rossman's shop, and iFixit. The two broad categories are not mutually incompatible, and do not focus on the same avenues for repair -- nor should they.

And, it's probably an important point to remember that Apple's design and service choices make the devices fail less often, and the repair experience smoother for those that have dead iPhones or Macs, if perhaps more expensive. And, as a general rule, those customers don't have the same level of technical acumen that AppleInsider readers have, aren't looking to do the repairs themselves, and are fine with a device replacement.

And, these consumers outnumber "us" 20 to one or more.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 75
    [quote]There are good, bad, Apple-authorized, and independent repair shops, and all the permutations of those four you can dream up. [\quote]

    Are you saying there are bad Apple-authorized repair shops?
    Neowarex
  • Reply 2 of 75
    Thanks for exposing the expose. Adding:

    1) Apple's customer satisfaction is consistently at, or near, the top every year. Same for brand. The vast majority of customers are happy with Apple policies.
    2) Batteries are inherently dangerous. Apple wisely protects consumers by making it hard to replace and expose consumers to physical safety risks.
    3) As mentioned, the home key, tied to enclave, protects the users data. We don't want a thief to easily crack our phones and get our personal (and financial) data.
    4) At least regarding iPhones, they remain in service longer than Android. That fact alone defeats the argument by CBC.

    magman1979claire1StrangeDays
  • Reply 3 of 75
    SpamSandwichSpamSandwich Posts: 29,872member
    Bloody Canadians.
    magman1979
  • Reply 4 of 75
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 3,302administrator
    [quote]There are good, bad, Apple-authorized, and independent repair shops, and all the permutations of those four you can dream up. [\quote]

    Are you saying there are bad Apple-authorized repair shops?
    There are, yes. There are even better Genius Bars to go to than others, often in the same geographical area.
    edited October 9 gatorguyclaire1king editor the grate
  • Reply 5 of 75
    magman1979magman1979 Posts: 1,040member
    Bloody Canadians.
    As a Canadian, I've seen the reporting quality by the CBC going down the toilet considerably over the last few years, favouring sensationalism and skewed facts to support their own conclusions.

    Also of note, go check the comments sections on ANY news story they publish regarding Apple, negative or not; it gets FILLED with the most vile, anti-Apple, Fandroid-troll rhetoric you can imagine, which gives you a glimpse into the type of readers / viewers the CBC seems to attract, and thus they choose to cater to for click bait articles and news stories. And try to post any pro-Apple comments, or post any pro-Apple evidence to counter the CBC article, and not only will you get vilified and bullied, but the admins of the CBC site often delete your post.

    It's disgusting, makes it look more like BGR.com TBH.
    chasm
  • Reply 6 of 75
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 6,389member
    I think Apple’s reputation can weather these attacks. I know for me personally I would never EVER take my Apple product to a third party repair shop, especially the ones you see in a strip mall named Bob’s Computers.
    edited October 9 magman1979
  • Reply 7 of 75
    claire1claire1 Posts: 446unconfirmed, member
    Apple being #1 in customer satisfaction isn't enough huh?

    Repairgate?
  • Reply 8 of 75
    you have the right to fix it yourself as long as you don't come back to Apple when something goes horribly wrong. I have seem so many bad screen replacements where touch sensor would stop working due to less quality parts/technician then they would go to Apple store scream and yell because their iPhone isn't working. Love iFixit's Tesla and tires analogy, however it isn't tires.... if I buy a Ford and completely replaced the transmission with a Toyota engine, can I go back to Ford when my car stop working? gas mileage isn't expected? We have to be smarter and use common sense.
  • Reply 9 of 75
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 6,389member
    [quote]There are good, bad, Apple-authorized, and independent repair shops, and all the permutations of those four you can dream up. [\quote]

    Are you saying there are bad Apple-authorized repair shops?
    There are, yes. There are even better Genius Bars to go to than others, often in the same geographical area.
    The renowned Peter Principal is alive and well. A really good Genius capable of properly diagnosing and trouble shooting doesn’t last long on the front line. Once his/her talents become known they are usually promoted. It happens in every business.
  • Reply 10 of 75
    rcfarcfa Posts: 713member
    Apple customer satisfaction is more a function of ease of use and fundamental quality of the products, it has little to no bearing on Apple’s repair policies.

    Apple e.g. refuses to even look at my MacBook Air for repair because it has “a dangerous third party battery” in it. Nothing about that battery is dangerous, the battery that’s dangerous was the Apple supplied original, that with only 32 cycles became so bloated one couldn’t close the lid properly anymore, necessitating the emergency repair with a third party battery (which was all that was available within a useful time period). The damage the notebook has (only works without crashing if something is attached to the TB port), is likely the result of some minor damage to the main board due to the bloating.

    Similarly, until Apple finally acknowledged issues with certain iPhone 6 and 6s batteries and created the repair program, they refused to replace the batteries at a reasonable price. Going to a third party means that Apple will refuse any repairs, including the battery, because it has a third party battery in it.

    Apple’s repairs are generally much too expensive, particularly battery replacements.
    dysamoriagatorguyjroymuthuk_vanalingammainyehc
  • Reply 11 of 75
    brucemcbrucemc Posts: 1,434member
    Bloody Canadians.
    As a Canadian, I've seen the reporting quality by the CBC going down the toilet considerably over the last few years, favouring sensationalism and skewed facts to support their own conclusions.

    Also of note, go check the comments sections on ANY news story they publish regarding Apple, negative or not; it gets FILLED with the most vile, anti-Apple, Fandroid-troll rhetoric you can imagine, which gives you a glimpse into the type of readers / viewers the CBC seems to attract, and thus they choose to cater to for click bait articles and news stories. And try to post any pro-Apple comments, or post any pro-Apple evidence to counter the CBC article, and not only will you get vilified and bullied, but the admins of the CBC site often delete your post.

    It's disgusting, makes it look more like BGR.com TBH.
    The CBC should stand for Communist Broadcasting Corporation.  The fact that Apple is the most successful public company in the world is all they need to want to produce a biased report.

    I have probably watched 30 mins of CBC news in the last 3 years, and every time I tune in for a few minutes, I remember why I try to avoid it.

    The CBC gets a $1B CAD annual subsidy from the Canadian government - without that it wouldn't exist.
    magman1979
  • Reply 12 of 75
    IanSIanS Posts: 26member
    Hey guys thanks for running this great article. When I saw the CBC piece I needed to send it to you. Got a lot going on right now so I had no time to send them a comment. Now that you have written this great piece I will be forwarding it to them. Thanks Again
    magman1979
  • Reply 13 of 75
    Full Disclosure: Longtime Apple customer (before the Mac) and longtime shareholder (bought my first shares about the time of the OS X Public Beta).

    Apple May not be “guilty” of steering customers to expensive phones in stores, but they are quite obviously on the side of planned obsolescence. They do not want you to be able to change so much as a battery- much less upgrade your device and repairs are a very dodgy gamble at best. This is not where Apple traditionally fell on the consumer friendly scale.

    I am the owner of one of the last of the Cheesegrater Mac Pro workstations, which is still a very capable machine 8 years after purchase. I can easily add stuff at minimal cost and with minimal effort- like adding USB 3 with a simple plug in card. I could easily upgrade my CPU with a swap out from third party retailers like OWC. Adding SSD internal drives takes less than 5 minutes. Most importantly, I can open my case and clean everything quickly with my Miele vac or some canned air to keep everything clean and running cool. The only thing I had to replace was the power supply which was a simple online order.

    It is pretty apparent that Apple never intends to make such a device again and that is sad.

    Apple likes to present itself as green even as they make devices less repairable, less upgradeable and will not allow anyone to do anything other than swap whole boards out. What this accomplishes is make old devices more likely to end up in landfills or third world burn piles, where poor people pick for salable materials after open air burning of e-waste. They also use a worldwide supply chain that has a significant carbon foot print as components are shipped from worldwide sources to China for assembly. The finished products are commonly flown to retail on jets, which have a significant carbon footprint.

    The simple truth is that Apple has adopted planned obsolescence and part of that is making devices as hard to repair as possible. This may make Apple a lot of money in the short term, but it is not in the best interest of consumers, shareholders, Apple or our one and only home.
    dysamoriazoetmbjroymainyehc
  • Reply 14 of 75
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 5,585member
    How convenient iFixit failed to mention the Touch ID sensor which is the key to the entire secure enclave. 

    If anyone needed more proof these guys have a bogus agenda there it is. 
    magman1979
  • Reply 15 of 75
    IanSIanS Posts: 26member
    Hey guys thanks for running this great article. When I saw the CBC piece I needed to send it to you. Got a lot going on right now so I had no time to send them a comment. Now that you have written this great piece I forwarded the article to the CBC as well. Thanks Again
  • Reply 16 of 75
    lkrupp said:
    I think Apple’s reputation can weather these attacks. I know for me personally I would never EVER take my Apple product to a third party repair shop, especially the ones you see in a strip mall named Bob’s Computers.
    I probably wouldn’t take any electronic device to any repair shop authorized or not, in or out of warranty. If I can’t buy the proper parts and repair it myself I will just buy a brand new replacement. In my experience it is too much of a hassle to deal with repair shops and the time I lose ends up being more valuable than the item I am trying to get repaired.
  • Reply 17 of 75
    Who's CBC, and frankly, why should we care?
  • Reply 18 of 75
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 3,302administrator
    Who's CBC, and frankly, why should we care?
    CBC = Canadian national broadcaster for both radio and TV

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canadian_Broadcasting_Corporation
    dysamoria
  • Reply 19 of 75
    sflocalsflocal Posts: 4,240member
    I've seen countless of  Louis Rossmann youtube videos and I am mesmerized by his ability to think through a problem logically, and perform an amazing, high-quality repair job.  We NEED more people like Rossmann.  

    On the flip-side, what I hate about Rossmann is his ego, especially in regards to his rabid distaste for Apple in just about every area.  I get his hatred, albeit I think it's misplaced and I don't think he sees the bigger picture on why Apple does certain things.  He lives with what he sees in his little bubble.  

    It simply comes down to numbers and money.  To get the kind of people like Rossman, it would require Apple to pay top-dollar, and then again.. people like Rossmann are very difficult to hire, let alone even find.  Rossmann has found a very profitable niche.  Whether he will be able to continue as Apple finds more and more ways of locking-down devices making 3rd-party repair difficult, next to impossible is something to be seen.

    So long as humans are involved, there's going to be bad apples as well as good ones.  In my 30+ years of being a software engineer, I came across countless of others in my field, many being paid well, that have zero business being in the field, and could barely do a hello-world program.  I'd say in my field, 5% of the engineers do 95% of the actual work and make a difference.  I spend way too much time doing damage control of people prior to me.  Amazing how many bad people there are out there.

    I'd happily bring my repairs to Rossmann if need be.  He's one of those gems.  If my device is under Apple Care, then I have zero problem letting Apple handle it.  I've been very lucky in my devices have been trouble-free for the most part and the reality is, years later when they do become an issue, it's honestly time (imho) to look at something more modern.  Sure I can probably get it fixed on the cheap elsewhere, but I do like having a more modern and faster device after I feel my device has given me years of good performance.
    magman1979
  • Reply 20 of 75
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 3,302administrator
    IanS said:
    Hey guys thanks for running this great article. When I saw the CBC piece I needed to send it to you. Got a lot going on right now so I had no time to send them a comment. Now that you have written this great piece I forwarded the article to the CBC as well. Thanks Again
    Yup, we did get your email. We spotted the vid about 30 minutes prior, and started working on this, but we appreciate the notice anyway!
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