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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 25th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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Business, blackmail or bullshirt?

9 August 2019

"The right to repair" is becoming a big issue, in a world where we have moved increasingly towards a throw-away culture.

With labour costs in developing nations where products are manufactured now so low, and the same labour in developed nations where repairs would take place being so high, it is all-too-often cheaper to simply replace a broken appliance or product than it is to have it repaired.

However, on a planet where natural resources are limited and energy comes at a cost, the sensibility of this throw-away society is coming under increasing scrutiny.

In a perfect world, we'd fix stuff when it broke and only replace it when it was no longer fit for purpose -- possibly due to improvements in designed efficiencies or functionality.

However, we don't live in a perfect world so all-too-often, a perfectly good item is consigned to the scrapheap for the sake of a part of trivial cost and complexity to replace.

So why don't we replace these broken parts and extend the life of our "things"?

Well in some cases, the ability to repair something is being engineered out by the manufacturers.

Take Apple's products for instance.

There's a lot of money to be made selling Apple products so Apple are always keen to do so.

If old products break and can't be repaired then that's good for sales.

If old products break and cost more to repair than replace, that's also good for sales.

So Apple is working very hard to ensure that repairs remain very expensive and that third-parties are unable to fix stuff for what it really costs to do so.

If you haven't seen the videos posted on YouTube by Louis Rossmann then I strongly recommend you browse through his back-catalog and watch a few of the more relevant ones.

Louis has campaigned long and hard for the right of independent parties to repair Apple products but he's fighting a losing battle. At every turn, Apple throws up roadblocks to those who would charge reasonable rates and thus prolong the effective life of iPhones, MacBooks, iPads and other Apple products.

Some of the tricks that Apple use are tantamount to gangsterism. I seem to recall that Louis had a consignment of replacement screens seized by US customs because they were deemed to be an "unauthorised import" -- even though they contained *no* Apple branding (and were therefore not subject to counterfieting claims or trademark infringement). Apple has a lot of clout in such areas, even it would seem, when perhaps no laws are being broken.

And now I see that Apple are taking things a little further with their "walled garden" of hardware "support".

According to this story, Apple are now using special software to ensure that third-party repair companies can't perform the most common of repairs -- a battery replacement.

Seriously?

There is no sane reason not to allow third parties to perform this life-extending repair for a reasonable price -- except that it upsets Apple's sales of new phones.

In this latest move, Apple are being super-smart. They're not disabling the phones with independently replaced batteries completely, they're ankle-tapping them. The phones will still work but Apple's software will artificially limit the capacity of the third-party batteries, making them appear to be of inferior quality and performance. I guess the objective here is for the customer to say "damn cheap battery" and then go to Apple themselves who will charge a huge premium to put in exactly the same battery but flip a bit in software to make it appear to have more capacity.

The real question that has to be asked is "Is this a reasonable business practice?"

Personally, I think not.

Effectively blackmailing your customers into paying extortionate prices by adding this sort of code to your system is almost a crime (IMHO).

I wonder how long before politicians wise-up, and instead of wasting countless hours and dollars trying to regulate children's flying toys, deal with the real issues. If they're worried about a "climate crisis" then how about they invest a little time in ensuring that we get maximum use from the products which have cost so much CO2 to manufacture?

How about making the artificial ankle-tapping of a product solely to boost sales of new ones an offense?

How about we give consumers *real* choice?

But then again, that's not the Apple way, is it and, as we all know, in the halls of power corporate dollars and the unspoken promise of post-political appointements speak much louder than commonsense or logic.

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