What Apple's New Mac Repair Program Means for You

Consumer-friendly or litigation-averse?

Key Takeaways

  • US-based Mac repair shops can now get official Apple support.
  • You can easily do many repairs and upgrades yourself.
  • Apple-sanctioned repairs are more expensive than regular repairs, even when carried out at the same shop.
Inside of an older Mac computer
Lifewire / Charlie Sorrel

Apple’s looser stance towards independent repair shops may look like it’s softening up regarding repairs and user upgrades, but it might just be Apple trying to avoid government oversight.

Previously, you had to get your Macs fixed by Apple, or by its authorized service providers. Now you can get your broken Mac repaired at an independent workshop, using official Apple parts and techniques. Independent repair shops have always been a third option, but it’s only now they can operate with Apple’s approval.

“I think this is about getting ready for legislation,” Kyle Wiens, founder of repair-guide site iFixit, told Lifewire via email conversation. “They see Right to Repair on the horizon and want to be ready for it.”

What Difference Does IRP Make?

The Independent Repair Provider Program (IRP) has been available for iPhone repairs since last year; now it’s available for Apple’s desktop and laptop computers.

Any indie developer can already repair your Mac, but some repairs are all but impossible without Apple’s tools and materials. You can just continue to use a trusted local repair shop, too, whether it’s Apple-certified or not, for more basic repairs. And, in fact, that might be a better, or at least cheaper, option.

“With the T2 [security chip] on modern Macs, some repairs are not possible without their calibration software,” says Wiens. “Honestly Apple's IRP thing isn't very widespread, and the prices Apple is charging for parts are so high that most places that do it offer customers both choices.”

iFixit publishes crowd-sourced repair guides and advocates for the Right to Repair—a movement pushing manufacturers to publish repair manuals and design their products to make home fixes easier. The movement pushes for using normal screws instead of special security screws to hold laptops together, for example, and using screws instead of glue and solder to make disassembly and parts-replacement possible.

So, does this mean Apple will make repair manuals available for Macs? Or make it easier to get inside the guts? Probably not.

“[Apple] did post the 2019 iMac service manual to the public, but hasn't posted any more," says Wiens. “[It] should—it's a very consumer friendly thing to do. Apple should do the right thing by their customers and the planet by publishing all their service manuals.”

What about leaked manuals from IRP-certified workshops? Unlikely. “The biggest problem with IRP is the contractual limitations and NDAs they put on repair shops,” says Wiens.

DIY Repairs

Thanks to sites like iFixit, you don’t need an official repair manual to fix your own Mac. Older models are more repairable, simply because they’re easier to open and have discrete parts screwed or clipped into place. If you have an older iMac, for example, it’s a straightforward job to remove the screen with a suction cup and a screwdriver. Once inside, you can replace the hard drive, swap in an SSD for your obsolete DVD drive, and replace fans and other parts.

More recent Macs require special tools and extra patience as you carefully scrape away glue, but it’s still possible to perform many repairs and upgrades with a step-by-step repair guide.

If you do take your Mac or your iPhone in for repair, then you should first take some precautions:

  • Back up your data using Time Machine, iCloud Backup, or other methods. You should be able to restore this backup to your device easily.
  • Wipe the device. The iPhone, iPad, and T2-equipped Macs can be securely reset just by entering your passcode. This prevents a repair person from accessing your private data.
  • Never, ever give a repair person your Apple ID password. This gives them access to all your connected devices, as well as your data.

If you wipe your device before repair, then restore from a backup afterwards, you won’t have to worry about having malware planted on your machine. 

The Future of Repair

There are several reasons a company like Apple doesn’t want to allow home user repairs and upgrades. One is that Apple is addicted to secrecy and may regard its repair documents as company secrets.

Another is that repairability is the enemy of small and thin. A removable battery wastes space inside an iPhone or a Mac. If you sculpt the battery to perfectly fit into an oddly-sized gap, then you can make the device thinner, for instance. Apple is pretty good at recycling, and at using fewer resources during manufacture and distribution, but it doesn’t seem to like letting other people do the same thing.

Side view of the 2018 MacBook Air
Apple

“I think it's accurate to say that #RightToRepair activism has pushed Apple to change,” head of the United States Public Interest Research Group Nathan Proctor writes on Twitter, “but I think we are giving too much credit to what Apple is doing with their expanded independent repair shop program.”

Even if this relaxing of the repair rules is just a preemptive response to Right to Repair legislation, it’s welcome. DIY repair isn’t for everyone, and being able to get your old Mac fixed up is almost as essential as getting new tires for your car.