Today, another Apple PR failed because the company, once again, waited to be forced to react – this time due to the pressure of the right to repair. The company has finally accepted that consumers should be allowed to repair their Apple kit themselves, including the latest and most sophisticated devices.
Apple’s previous resistance was widely seen as greedy and inconsistent with the company’s environmental stance. Many repairs are simply not worth doing at official Apple prices, making it more likely that consumers will simply put away faulty devices and buy new ones.
This is not the first PR failure of this type. I had previously claimed that the company did exactly the same thing through the App Store: it fought fiercely until it was clear that it would lose the argument, and then just reluctantly made changes.
This kind of behavior makes Apple look like a bad guy when, simply by taking exactly the same actions at an earlier stage, it could look like a hero.
PR disaster no. 1: App Store Commissions
I had previously put together a major WWDC announcement that the company could make by changing from a 30% to 15% commission before it found itself in the corner. I argued that this would turn a PR disaster into a triumph.
The developers would be on their feet and applauding. And if 2% of the big boys grumbled about it, no one would care. The only reason Epic Games has attracted even the slightest amount of sympathy for his position is that he claimed to be in favor of the little guy.
There would probably be no Congressional investigation, no U.S. antitrust law affecting Apple. And since Apple makes most of its money from the biggest developers, it wouldn’t even lose much money by working a few years ago.
Instead, Apple made a similar change, but in a way that generated nothing like the same goodwill. He withdrew the move in general only when it was clear that the move was defensive, trying to respond to the criticisms that had already been made. And he couldn’t even go public with a figure of 98% because it would be a shame to admit that he essentially made a turnaround from his previous position – which he continues to defend even now.
Then I said it was a smart twist, and it was – given the hole the company had already dug for itself. But it was stupid that Apple even allowed itself to dig that hole.
PR disaster no. 2: Oppose do-it-yourself repairs
Apple resisted the idea of doing the repairs itself using a wide range of tactics, including:
- “Mine traps”
- Denial of tools and information
Apple has spent years consistently and aggressively lobbying against the right to repair, both at the state and federal levels.
One of the tactics used by both Apple and other tech companies to oppose do-it-yourself repairs was to claim that they were dangerous, listing everything from the risk of fire to consumers cutting their fingers while replacing broken screens. Although there are legitimate concerns about lithium-ion batteries, people who will deal with the notoriously cunning “do-it-yourself” repairs on the Apple kit are probably well versed in the necessary precautions.
Many unofficial repairs are hampered, or completely stopped, by effective traps. Examples include “do-it-yourself” home page key fixes on the iPhone 6 which causes the devices to break down, and the same thing happens with the iPhone 8 screen repair. This continues all the way to the iPhone 13.
In other cases, Apple has configured iPhones to display annoying error messages after doing-it-yourself repairs. Examples here include battery replacement on the iPhone XR and XS.
Retention tools and information
Apple has also made certain repairs impossible without access to hardware or software tools that are only available at Apple stores and authorized services. This began in 1984, with the original Macintosh case secured with special Apple-specific screws instead of the standard hexagonal ones. Recent examples include the 2018 MacBook Pro and iMac Pro, which will not work after repair without an Apple software tool, and iPhone 12 camera repairs that prove impossible without access to the same tool.
Independent workshops were also forced either to pay significant fees and agree to “crazy” conditions to gain access to repair manuals, or to resort to copies of black market documentation.
Apple only acts after global pressure
Apple is trying to look like a good guy now that it has announced.
“Creating greater access to Apple genuine parts gives our customers even more choice if a repair is needed,” said Jeff Williams, Apple’s chief operating officer. “In the past three years, Apple has almost doubled the number of service locations with access to genuine Apple parts, tools and training, and now we provide an option for those who want to complete their repairs themselves.”
This is the same company that has consistently used all of the above methods and more to prevent just that. Apple has acted now, just because the pressure on it to do so has become insurmountable. Let’s just look at a few examples from this year.
In May, the Federal Trade Commission explicitly called on Apple to “fix repairs against competition.”
Apple also restricts access to service manuals and has issued copyright removal notices when they are posted online [and] binding components to the logic board, which can make repairs uneconomical.
In July, the Biden administration announced it would act on the report, introducing new laws to force companies like Apple to allow consumers to repair their own devices, followed by an executive order to introduce the right to repair.
That same month, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak added his support for DIY repairs, stating that the company was based on open source computing, and the FTC announced a new policy in favor of the right to repair.
A decision by AAPL shareholders was filed in September, urging the company to “end its anti-repair policy” to avoid damaging the company’s reputation.
I could go on. The point is that Apple fought tooth and nail against DIY repairs until it became clear that it was facing too much opposition – and then it announced the announcement trying to present itself as a generous benefactor to the same consumers it had previously blocked.
Another Apple PR failure should be avoided
Apple has twice put itself on the wrong side of history, and twice left it too late to make things right.
It wouldn’t have been so important if the only publicity had been in the technology press, but both issues have received wide coverage in the mainstream media as well. In both cases, Apple took a selfish stance, waited for the weight of political and public pressure not to be too great, and then acted reluctantly. In both cases, PR damage has already been done.
There will be other such problems. China will probably be one of them. I hope Apple has learned these lessons and there won’t be another Apple PR.
That’s my point – and yours? Do you think Apple is right to protect its financial interests for as long as possible, or should it instead deal with the long-term reputational damage done to a company whose main asset is its brand? Invest in what Steve Jobs called a brand bank? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
Photo: Joel Rohland / Unsplash
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