MacBook self-repair program highlights Apple's flawed progress in repairability

MacBook self-repair program highlights Apple’s flawed progress in repairability

Magnify / 2021 16-inch MacBook Pro.

Samuel Axon

On Tuesday, Apple expanded its self-service repair program to M1-based MacBooks. Providing customers with repair guides and the ability to purchase parts and buy or rent tools for M1 MacBook Airs and M1 MacBook Pros is a far cry from Apple of yesteryear. After a few days of availability, the MacBook self-repair program is showing welcome progress, but there is still work to be done before Apple is considered a true right-to-repair ally.

In the past few days, many right-to-repair activists have criticized Apple’s MacBook self-repair program. Perhaps most notable is a strongly worded blog post from iFixit, which says the program “succeeds in making MacBooks less repairable.” While iFixit found the MacBook Air repair manual to be “detailed, mostly logical, and worth the extra repairability point,” it was less impressed with the MacBook Pro repair manuals.

iFixit focused heavily on Apple’s approach to replacing MacBook Pro batteries, citing the natural degradation of lithium batteries. Apple’s 13-, 14-, and 16-inch MacBook Pro 2021 self-repair guides say that replacing the battery requires removing much more than just the battery. The manuals instruct users to remove the entire top cover, bottom cover, battery management unit, flex cable, lid angle sensor, trackpad and its flex cable, ventilation/antenna module, logic board, display hinge covers, display, laptop audio board, fans, the MagSafe 3 board, as well as the USB-C boards and the Touch ID board.

From Apple's 14-inch M1 MacBook Pro Repair Guide.

From Apple’s 14-inch M1 MacBook Pro Repair Guide.

Apple

This requires you to read most of the 160-page manual, which warns that “the battery is part of the top case” and that you shouldn’t try to separate the two. The manuals also state that the top case contains the BMU board, keyboard, keyboard flex cable, microphone and speakers, all of which are “non-removable”.

Basically taking a laptop apart and reassembling it to replace the battery, a part that is known to need replacing after a while, is not user friendly or…typical. For example, iFixit has a 2021 MacBook Pro 14″ battery replacement guide that breaks down the process into 26 steps and mostly only removes the bottom cover, trackpad, and battery plate.

And a quick look at repair guides for other computers like the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon [PDF] or HP Zbook Fury G8 have simpler and shorter battery replacement processes. However, these designs differ from Apple’s MacBook Pros.

If you want to replace the battery on an M1 MacBook Pro through an Apple self-service repair store, you’ll also need to buy the entire top case, which will run you between $527 and $615, minus an $88 credit if you send back your original part. (you can see a more detailed price breakdown in this handy price list from The Verge). That’s a high price for a new battery, especially if everything else is working.

Apple says it will eventually sell individual replacement batteries for the M1 MacBook Pro, but hasn’t specified when. Until then, battery replacements done the Apple Self Repair Store way are very time consuming and expensive.

“… Apple presents do-it-yourself repairers with a torturous gauntlet of obstacles: read 162 pages of documentation without freaking out and decide to do the repair anyway, pay an exorbitant amount of money for a redundant replacement part, decide whether you want to keep another 50 bucks for the tools they recommend and do the repair yourself within 14 days, including completing the system configuration to pair your part with your device. What we’re wondering is, does Apple even want better repairability?” iFixit content consultant Sam Goldheart wrote.

The iFixit blog notes that Apple isn’t the only company bundling self-service battery replacement with other repairs. Samsung Galaxy S21 Screen Battery Replacement Kit is an example. But Apple’s insult, iFixit argues, is worse.

“Apple requires the keyboard and top cover to be replaced Yippee worse than the Samsung OEM display assembly because it makes it much more difficult to repair and requires you to disassemble the entire device to replace the battery,” Elizabeth Chamberlain, director of sustainability at iFixit, told Ars. She noted that while the S21’s battery assembly is “also unlucky,” it makes battery swapping easier.

The iFixit blog also bemoaned the mysterious disappearance of repair manuals for the 21.5-inch and 27-inch iMacs that Apple released in 2019. We’ve reached out to Apple to ask about its reasoning and will update if we hear back. However, there is hope that the manuals could return (perhaps altered) at some point as Apple continues to expand its self-service repair program.

A less expensive problem is replacing the functional M1 MacBook Air keyboard line. Replacing it costs the same money, $39, as replacing the keys on a keyboard. As The Verge pointed out, in a move that feels painfully wasteful in more ways than one, Apple will sell users seven sets of function keys for that price.

At the whim of Apple

With Apple in charge of its self-service efforts, there is concern that the Apple Store will eventually make parts unavailable, limiting future self-repairs.

“They will probably phase out the availability of product parts before the actual life of the hardware (our office is full of 2012 MacBook Pros, for example),” Chamberlain told Ars.

Right-to-repair legislation has seen significant movement recently, including the first electronics right-to-repair bill passing in New York. iFixit argued that further legislation is still necessary, despite Apple becoming more open to DIY repairs. Because just as easily as Apple has decided to be more accommodating of DIY repairs, it can change its mind.

MacBook M1 repair.

MacBook M1 repair.

“When we’re at the manufacturers’ whims, we get a fix on their terms,” ​​Chamberlain said. “Apple can withdraw support and repair manuals for product components at any time – evidenced by the fact that they pulled the manuals for the 2019 iMac.”

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