On Tuesday, Apple expanded its self-service repair program to M1-based MacBooks. Providing customers with repair manuals and the ability to shop for parts and buy or rent tools for the M1 MacBook Air and M1 MacBook Pro is very different from the Apple of yesteryear. After a few days of availability, the MacBook self-repair program shows welcome progress, but work is still needed before Apple is considered a true right-to-repair ally.
In recent days, numerous right-to-repair activists have criticized Apple’s MacBook self-repair program. Perhaps most notable is a heavily redacted blog from iFixit, which said that the program “succeeds in making MacBooks look less fixable.” While iFixit found the MacBook Air repair manual to be “in-depth, mostly logical, and well worth an extra repair point,” it was less impressed with the MacBook Pro repair manuals.
iFixit focused heavily on Apple’s approach to MacBook Pro battery replacements, citing the natural degradation of lithium batteries. Apple’s 2021 13-inch, 14-inch, and 16-inch MacBook Pro self-repair manuals say that to replace the battery, you need to remove much more than just the battery. Manuals instruct users to remove the entire top case, bottom case, battery management unit, flex cable, lid angle sensor, trackpad and its flex cable, fan/antenna module , logic board, display hinge covers, display, laptop audio board, fans, MagSafe 3 board, as well as USB-C boards and the Touch ID board.
That requires you to read most of the 160-plus-page manual, which warns that “the battery is part of the top case” and that you shouldn’t try to separate the two. The manuals also note that the top case includes the BMU board, keyboard, keyboard flex cable, microphone, and speakers, all “non-removable.”
Basically taking apart and putting back together a laptop to change its battery, a part known to need replacement after a while, isn’t user-friendly or… typical. iFixit, for example, has a 2021 MacBook Pro 14-inch battery replacement guide that breaks the process down into 26 steps and primarily removes the bottom case, trackpad, and battery plate.
And a quick look at repair manuals for other PCs, like the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon [PDF] or HP’s Zbook Fury G8 have simpler and shorter battery replacement processes. Although those designs differ from Apple’s MacBook Pro.
To replace the battery in a MacBook Pro M1 through Apple’s self-service repair store, you’ll also need to purchase a full top case, which will run you around $527-$615, minus an $88 credit if you return your original part (You can see a more detailed price breakdown in this handy price list from The Verge). That’s a high price to pay for a new battery, especially if everything else works.
Apple says it will eventually sell individual battery replacements for the M1 MacBook Pro, but hasn’t specified when. Until then, Apple Self Repair Store-style battery replacements are time-consuming and expensive.
“…Apple is presenting DIY repairmen with an excruciating challenge: read 162 pages of documentation without being intimidated and decide to do the repair anyway, pay an exorbitant amount of money for an excessive replacement part, decide if you want to leave another 50 bucks on the tools they recommend, and do the repair yourself within 14 days, including configuring the system to pair your part with your device.Which makes us wonder, does Apple even want better repairability? iFixit content advisor Sam Goldheart wrote.
The iFixit blog points out that Apple isn’t the only company to bundle self-service battery replacement with other repairs. The Screen and Battery Replacement Kit for the Samsung Galaxy S21 is one example. But Apple’s offense, iFixit argues, is worse.
“Apple requires keyboard and top case replacements it is worse than Samsung’s OEM display assembly because it makes repair significantly more difficult, requiring you to take the entire device apart to replace a battery,” Elizabeth Chamberlain, director of sustainability at iFixit, told Ars. It’s “also unfortunate “, simplifies battery replacement.
The iFixit blog also lamented the mysterious disappearance of repair manuals for the 21.5-inch and 27-inch iMacs that Apple published in 2019. We’ve reached out to Apple to ask about their reasoning and will update if we hear back. But there is hope that the manuals may return at some point (perhaps amended) as Apple continues to expand its self-service repair program.
A less expensive concern is to replace the M1 MacBook Air’s keyboard function row. It costs the same amount of money, $39, to replace as it does to replace the keys on the keyboard. As The Verge pointed out, Apple, in a move that feels painfully wasteful in more ways than one, will sell users seven sets of function row keys for that price.
At the whim of Apple
Because Apple is in charge of its self-service efforts, there are concerns that the Apple Store will eventually make parts unavailable, limiting future self-repairs.
“They are likely to phase out product parts availability before the actual hardware life (our office is full of 2012 MacBook Pros, for example),” Chamberlain told Ars.
Right to repair legislation has seen notable movement in recent times, including the first electronics right to repair bill passed in New York. iFixit argued that more legislation is still needed, despite Apple becoming more receptive to automatic fixes. Because as easily as Apple decided to better suit auto repairs, you can change your mind.
“When we’re at the whims of manufacturers, we get repairs on their terms,” Chamberlain said. “Apple can remove product parts support and repair manuals at any time, as evidenced by the fact that they removed the iMac 2019 manuals.”