California’s Apple-backed Right to Repair Act is the future of tech

Apple surprised us all when it pivoted to support California’s Right to Repair Act, which was signed into law this week. The SB 244 Act, which comes into effect on July 1, 2024, seems likely to have an international effect.

Making iThings last longer

The newly minted law makes California the third state after Minnesota and New York to enact such a regulation.

Apple endorsed the bill just weeks ago. When it voiced its support, Apple said it was doing so in order that all Californians “have even greater access to repairs while also protecting their safety, security, and privacy.”

What drives the law is the idea that it should be easy for customers purchasing consumer electronics to either repair devices themselves or take them to independent repair shops. The bill had achieved considerable support, including from tear-down and repair advocates iFixit.

“With access to original parts, tools, and documentation, independent repair shops will be able to compete again. And Californians across the state — accounting for about 1 out of every 8 Americans — will be able to fix things however they see fit,” iFixit said.

So, what are the rights that are coming into effect, and what do they mean?

Seven year rich

The law basically requires electronics device and appliance manufacturers to deliver up to seven years of repair coverage for almost all the gadgets they sell that cost $50 or more.

Devices that cost between $50 and $99

Device makers must stock replacement components, repair tools, and repair documentation for three years.

Devices that cost over $100

Device makers must stock replacement components, repair tools, and repair documentation for seven years.

These requirements are backdated, so any device sold in California since July 1, 2021, must get this kind of support. Essentially this means that affordable coffee percolator you purchased last year should be repairable.

There are some devices that don’t get this cover. These include game consoles, alarm systems, agricultural equipment, and equipment for forestry. The Justia legal resources site has a list of systems that are not covered by the act.

Apple already offers its own Self Service Repair scheme that should meet the terms of the Act. First introduced in 2021 in the US, the company continues to extend this scheme, which is now available across Europe and also in the UK. 

What if a company can’t or won’t offer this support?

One reason Apple may have chosen to support the Californian approach is because it still permits parts pairing, in which companies maintain some control over components with software blocks.

This can make repairs more expensive, though Apple argues that use of legitimate parts is important to protect device safety and security. Right to repair advocates argue against this. I stand somewhere in the middle.

Companies that fail to follow the new Californian law will be punished. Those who violates the law three times or more will be fined $5,000 per violation per day, which soon adds up. The intention, I guess, is to put companies selling products that cannot be repaired out of business.

Why it matters

There are many reasons why the new law matters. Not only should it make it much easier for consumers of electronic devices to keep their kit maintained, but it should also vastly reduce the quantity of electronic waste.

Jenn Engstrom, state director of CALPIRG (California Public Interest Research Group) pointed out:

“Right now, we mine the planet’s precious minerals, use them to make amazing phones and other electronics, ship these products across the world, and then toss them away after just a few years’ use. What a waste. We should make stuff that lasts and be able to fix our stuff when it breaks, and now thanks to years of advocacy, Californians will finally be able to, with the Right to Repair.”

It is also to be hoped that adopting a different attitude to obsolescence may reduce the market in conflict minerals.

Will it spread?

We know the EU and other territories are developing similar legislation, which implies California’s new law may in the future be emulated everywhere. The fact that Apple must provide repair support for its devices in California implies that the devices will become more repairable everywhere. The company will not ship a special fixable model for one US state.

“Repair is key to ending the model of ‘take, make, break, and throw away’ that is so harmful to our planet, our health and our economy,” explained Frans Timmermans, executive vice president for the European Green Deal.

“There’s no reason why a faulty cord or broken ventilator should force you to buy an entirely new product. Last year, we proposed rules to ensure products are designed to be repairable. Today, we propose to make actually repairing things the easy and attractive option for consumers.”

Further out

While its approach isn’t perfect, Apple continues working toward a circular manufacturing system and introduced its first carbon neutral product with Apple Watch this year.

The company seems to understand that consumer repairs will become increasingly important in the future as enterprises everywhere struggle to reduce carbon emissions in order to protect what’s left of the planet.

A move to make devices longer lasting was flagged up by the company in September 2019, when Apple VP Lisa Jackson discussed it. That resilience is reflected in the value of Apple devices on the second user market.

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Copyright © 2023 IDG Communications, Inc.

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