Right to Repair

WSJ Illustrates Need for Right to Repair with Two Busted MacBooks

Joanna Stern at the Wall Street Journal used to have two water-damaged MacBooks, a Pro and an Air. After checking with a few repair shops, she now has a working Pro, a busted Air, and two great illustrations of what the Right to Repair fight is all about.

The “donor board” from a 2017 MacBook Pro that saved Joanna Stern’s laptop (via WSJ).

Stern’s WSJ post, “How the ‘Right to Repair’ Might Save Your Gadgets—and Save You Money,” sits behind the publication’s paywall. If you can read the whole thing, please do so. Stern’s journey to fix two MacBooks illustrates the most fundamental aspect of the Right to Repair movement. When independent fixers and repair shops have access to parts, tools, and repair data, they can often fix devices that the manufacturer won’t fix, charge far too much to fix, or sometimes outright block others from fixing.

Stern’s video, “Apple Store vs. Repair Shop: What the Right to Repair Is All About,” is not pay-walled, and covers similar ground.

Stern had a 2017 MacBook Pro and a 2020 MacBook Air, both seemingly done in by water spills. She took them to Apple, where a Genius quoted her a $999 (non-AppleCare) repair for the Pro (almost certainly a full board or full unit replacement), and $799 for the Air. Stern notes that a brand-new Air now costs $999. An Apple-authorized repair shop quotes even higher prices, because they’re essentially sending those devices off to Apple; even authorized shops are not allowed to try and fix board-level damage. Apple provides a bog-standard quote quote about safety, reliability, and using “Apple-genuine parts.”

Stern brought the Pro to Simple Mac and Rossman Repair, and got quotes of $350 and $325, respectively. She goes with Rossman, who just happens to be a notable Right to Repair advocate. Rossman, using working chips from an otherwise busted MacBook Pro board, and schematics he’s technically not supposed to have, replaced the busted chips and got it working. Stern pinpoints the difference in repair shop versus Apple:

Apple would have replaced the whole motherboard with a new one—thus, the higher price. The company spokesman said Apple has found individual chip replacement to be unreliable.

I wrote this whole column on the fixed machine.

The Air can’t be brought back to life, however, because it’s so new that no “donor boards” are available yet. And, as you might guess, Apple doesn’t sell individual chips, and often works to prevent chip makers from selling them.

Stern talks to parties on both sides of the Right to Repair battle. One quote we were happy to see comes from Tim Wu, special assistant to President Biden. Wu worked on Biden’s executive order that pushed against repair restrictions. He tells Stern that making her laptop repair a more simple process shouldn’t be so controversial:

“It isn’t like we’re asking for something that’s impossible. It’s something that’s easy to do: Provide parts, provide information and let people really feel like they own their own devices,” … “It gets to deeper questions about autonomy and control.”

Tim Wu, special assistant to President Biden on for technology and competition policy.

Again, it’s worth reading or watching Stern’s Allegory of the Water-Damaged Macbook for the details. More coverage like this is needed to remind people of the wallet-level issues at stake for everyone.