Apple’s Service History Feature Makes Some Right-to-Repair Experts Nervous

Is it the end of Apple's right-to-repair honeymoon?

Key Takeaways

  • iOS 15.2 enables users to look at the service history of their iPhones.
  • The feature labels all non-Apple sourced parts as "Unknown."
  • Right-to-repair advocates are concerned that Apple will use the feature to monopolize the spare parts market.
Woman repairing mobile phone at home

Guido Mieth / Getty Images

Starting with iOS 15.2, Apple will enable users to check whether the components in their repaired iPhones are genuine or not. The move, however, hasn't gone down well with right-to-repair advocates.

In addition to the Parts and Service History feature flagging a replaced part, Apple will also tag the replaced components. A "Genuine Apple Part" tag will appear adjacent to components that Apple has sold, while all other third-party components, or the ones that have been used in other iPhones or are defective, will get an "Unknown Part" tag.

"I think it's laudable that there is progress on the front of being able to repair Apple devices now outside of its own ecosystem (third-party authorized resellers can repair with Apple-supplied parts, which was not possible before)," Max Schulze, Executive Chairman of Sustainable Digital Infrastructure Alliance told Lifewire via email.

Change of Heart

In a major departure from its earlier stance, Apple has clarified that regardless of whether genuine or non-genuine components power the device, it won't artificially interfere with the user's ability to use it. 

"These messages don't affect your ability to use your iPhone, its battery, display, or camera," asserts Apple in its support document, adding that the information is only "used for service needs, safety analysis, and to improve future products."

"I think it’s laudable that there is progress on the front of being able to repair Apple devices now outside of its own ecosystem."

This move comes on the heels of Apple softening its stance on imposing artificial curbs on users' ability to operate their devices powered by non-genuine components. Very recently, backlash from the right-to-repair community prompted Apple to announce the withdrawal of plans to disable FaceID on iPhone 13 if the phone's display was replaced without Apple-certified tools and components.

The blowback led to Apple changing tacks, saying it'll only inform customers when the device detects it's running non-genuine components instead of disabling functionality. The new Parts and Service History functionality in iOS 15.2 flows from that assurance.

Under the Hood

According to Apple’s support document for the new feature, the Parts and Service History section will only be available on devices that have had their factory-fitted components replaced with new ones.

On such devices, iOS 15.2 users can head to Settings > General > About to view the device's service history.

iOS 15.2 Parts and Service History

Apple

Apple says the feature will spit out different information for the tracked components depending on ‌the iPhone‌ model. For ‌instance, owners of the iPhone‌ XR, XS, XS Max, and later, including the iPhone SE (2nd generation), will be able to see if the battery on their phone has been replaced.

On the other hand, in addition to the battery, iPhone 11 users will also be able to tell if the display has been replaced. Lastly, iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 users will get replacement information about the battery, display, and even if the camera has been changed.

Irresponsible Messaging

Right-to-repair advocates like Schulze have welcomed the new functionality and appreciate the level of transparency. However, what's got some of them all riled up is the messaging, which labels all non-genuine parts as "Unknown," irrespective of their capabilities.

"Looks like @Apple's embrace of #RightToRepair was short-lived. Latest #iOS update labels non-Apple parts "unknown" - the same label used to describe parts that are "possibly defective." Do better Cupertino. Owners should have a choice about parts," wrote SecuRepairs on Twitter, adding that while the feature's benefit to users is debatable, it will surely help give Apple a monopoly on aftermarket parts.

Phone and digital devices repair service, smoking overheating broken phone and DIY tools

cyano66 / Getty Images

SecuRepairs isn't alone in thinking that the messaging pushes the idea that only genuine Apple parts are acceptable, which would negatively impact reputable after-market suppliers like iFixit. 

"You are right that [the messaging] devalues and cuts out third-party suppliers of partners and does nothing to open the market for those third-party parts," agrees Schulze.

The very vocal right-to-repair ecosystem has begun highlighting the sinister implications of the messaging. However, it remains to be seen if Apple is willing to tweak the tags in the greater interest of letting users choose the components they want to put inside their devices.

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