The Dark Side of Apple’s Interoperability
Tech News

The Dark Side of Apple’s Interoperability

Every week, we get a roundup of recent developments in Right to Repair news, courtesy of Jack Monahan and Paul Roberts from Fight to Repair, a reader-supported publication. Sign up to receive updates in your inbox. (It’s free!) Or become a premium subscriber for access to exclusive content and live events!

The U.S. Department of Justice and 16 state attorneys general have sued Apple under the Sherman Antitrust Act. This antitrust lawsuit is an attempt to punish the company for using its massive market power to snuff out competition from other device and software makers, in violation of U.S. law.

And, while the word “repair” doesn’t show up once in the DOJ’s 80-page complaint, there are massive stakes that could well impact how the company manages the repair and maintenance of its hardware and software. The complaint quotes Steve Jobs in 2010 looking for ways to “further lock customers into our ecosystem” and “make Apple[’s] ecosystem even more sticky.” Anti-repair practices such as parts pairing (which Apple will soon be forced to curtail, thanks to laws recently passed in Oregon and the EU) are undoubtedly part of Apple’s ecosystem lock-in strategy and thus may come into play in the investigation.

A sculpture of an apple with a keyhole in it, via David Sikes on Flickr
Image via David Sikes.

Core to the DOJ’s case is how Apple uses its hardware and software to block or degrade competitors’ products. Apple has long been cited for weaponizing interoperability, meaning it makes sure that Apple-branded hardware and software work seamlessly with its iPhones, iPads, and Macbooks while hampering the integration of competing services and products.

Take the iMessage texting service for example. Internal communications dating back to 2016 show that Apple executives contemplated making iMessage work cross-platform on both iOS and Android devices, but concluded that doing so would “hurt us more than help us,” according to the DOJ complaint.

The result of actions like these? Barriers to use for anything not produced by Apple. For example, Apple Watch users can use the same phone number for their smartphone and smartwatch when connected to the cellular network, allowing messages to be delivered to both the user’s smartphone and smartwatch. But users with a non-Apple smartwatch must disable Apple’s iMessage service on the iPhone to use the same phone number for both devices—a non-starter for most iPhone users, the DOJ noted in its complaint.

The Apple Watch <> iPhone integration is made to work seamlessly out of the box—so seamlessly, in fact, that it may be anticompetitive.
Image via Ted Eytan.

The government’s anti-trust suit pokes at Apple’s shiny veneer, exposing the shadier side of Apple’s business practices that have crushed competition not by offering better products, but by hampering fair competition in ways that may well be illegal. But buckle up! If the recent history of anti-trust cases against wealthy tech firms is any guide, the case against Apple will drag on for years but may yield some hard-won victories for consumers and repairers when it’s all said and done.

Device Page


Apple AirPods are wireless headphones released December 2016.

View Device

More News

  • Apple AirPods’ short lifespan is due to its design, and U.S. PIRG says they should be designed to last instead. With over 400 million sold, the buy-die-repeat cycle of AirPods and products like them contributes to serious environmental harm. Unlike some wireless earbuds, AirPods cannot have their batteries replaced, as they are glued together. This design choice renders them impossible to repair and destined for landfills, worsening the e-waste crisis. While AirPods may have revolutionized wireless audio, they perpetuate a culture of wasteful consumption, and the responsibility lies with Apple to prioritize repairability in future designs and reduce e-waste.
  • Microsoft’s latest Surface Pro 10 and Surface Laptop 6 models boast enhanced repairability features, including internal QR codes and markings for easy identification of components and screws. These changes make them the most serviceable Surface devices to date, allowing for straightforward replacement of various parts such as displays, SSDs, batteries, and more. Microsoft’s efforts to improve repairability follow criticism in the past, with the company now prioritizing modularity and accessibility for repair.
  • Australian farmers’ talks on right to repair are stalled. Hopes that the 2023 US MOU agreement allowing farmers to repair John Deere machinery independently would become a worldwide precedent are not panning out in Australia, where discussions between farm leaders and agricultural machinery manufacturers on the right to repair have stalled—the relevant parties have not met this year.