MacBook Self-Repair Program highlights Apple’s faulty repairability progress

The front of a silver colored closed laptop computer on a table
Enlarge / The 2021 16-inch MacBook Pro.

Samuel Axone

On Tuesday, Apple extended its self-service repair program to M1-based MacBooks. Giving customers repair manuals and the ability to purchase parts and buy or rent tools for M1 MacBook Airs and M1 MacBook Pros is a far cry from the Apple of yesteryear. After a few days of availability, the self-repair program for MacBooks is showing welcome progress, but work is still needed before Apple is considered a true ally of the right to repair.

In recent days, many right-to-repair activists have criticized Apple’s self-repair program for MacBooks. Perhaps most notable is a strongly worded blog post from iFixit, which says the program “manages to make MacBooks less repairable.” While iFixit found the MacBook Air repair manual to be “thorough, mostly logical, and well worth an extra repairability point,” it was less impressed with the MacBook Pro repair manuals.

iFixit focused heavily on Apple’s approach to MacBook Pro battery replacement, citing the natural degradation of lithium batteries. Apple’s 2021 13-, 14-, and 16-inch MacBook Pro self-repair manuals state that to replace the battery, you need to remove a lot more than just the battery. The manuals instruct users to remove the entire top case, bottom case, battery management unit, flex cable, cover angle sensor, trackpad and its flex cable, module vents/antenna, motherboard, display hinge covers, display, laptop sound card, fans, MagSafe 3 card, as well as USB-C cards and the Touch ID card.

Excerpt from Apple's 14-inch MacBook Pro M1 repair manual.

Excerpt from Apple’s 14-inch MacBook Pro M1 repair manual.

Apple

This forces 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, mic and speakers, all of which are “non-removable”.

Basically, taking a laptop apart and putting it back together to change its battery, a part known to need replacing after a while, isn’t user-friendly or… typical. iFixit, for example, has a 2021 14-inch MacBook Pro battery replacement guide that breaks down the process into 26 steps and mostly removes the bottom case, trackpad, and battery board.

And a quick overview of repair manuals for other PCs, such as Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Carbon [PDF] or HP’s Zbook Fury G8 have simpler and shorter battery replacement processes. However, these designs differ from Apple’s MacBook Pros.

To replace the battery in a MacBook Pro M1 through Apple’s self-service repair store, you’ll also need to purchase a complete top case, which will cost you around $527 to $615, less an $88 credit if you return your original part. (you can see a more in-depth price breakdown in this handy price list from The Verge). That’s a steep price to pay for a new battery, especially if everything else works.

Apple says it will eventually sell individual battery replacements for MacBook Pro M1s, but didn’t say when. Until then, battery replacements through Apple Self Repair Store Way are extremely time consuming and expensive.

“…Apple presents do-it-yourself repairers with a gauntlet of excruciating obstacles: read 162 pages of documentation without being intimidated and decide to do the repair anyway, pay an exorbitant sum for an over-the-top replacement part, decide if you want to let Drop an extra $50 on the tools they recommend, and do the repair yourself within 14 days, including completing the system setup to pair your part with your device. that Apple even wants better repairability?” iFixit Content Advisor Sam Goldheart wrote.

The iFixit blog notes that Apple isn’t the only company bundling self-service battery replacement with other repairs. An example of this is the Screen Battery Replacement Kit for the Samsung Galaxy S21. But Apple’s offense, according to iFixit, is worse.

“Apple needs to replace the keyboard and top case is worse than Samsung’s OEM screen assembly because it makes repair much more difficult, requiring you to disassemble the entire device to replace a battery,” said Elizabeth Chamberlain, iFixit’s Director of Sustainability. , in Ars. She noted that while the S21’s battery-display assembly is “also unfortunate,” it simplifies battery replacement.

iFixit’s blog also lamented the mysterious disappearance of repair manuals for the 21.5-inch and 27-inch iMacs that Apple released in 2019. We’ve contacted Apple to ask for their reasoning and will update if we receive answer. But there’s hope the manuals might come back at some point (perhaps changed) as Apple continues to expand its self-service repair program.

A less expensive concern is to replace the keyboard function row of the M1 MacBook Air. It costs the same amount, $39, to replace it as it does to replace the keys on the keyboard. As The Verge pointed out, Apple, in a move that seems painfully unnecessary in more ways than one, will sell users seven sets of function row keys for that price.

At Apple’s discretion

Because Apple is responsible for its self-maintenance efforts, there is concern that the Apple Store may eventually render 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 a notable movement lately, including the first electronics right-to-repair bill passed in New York. iFixit argued that additional legislation is still needed, although Apple is becoming more receptive to self-repair. Because as easily as Apple decided to better adapt to self-repair, it may change its mind.

Repair of a MacBook M1.

Repair of a MacBook M1.

“When we’re at the whims of manufacturers, we get repairs on their terms,” ​​Chamberlain said. “Apple may remove the parts support and repair manuals from the product at any time, which is evidenced by the fact that they have removed the manuals from the 2019 iMac.”

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