Apple’s Poor Repairability Ratings: Not What They Seem?

I brought my iPhone 6 in for service at an iPhone store a few weeks ago. Its home button had a double click that didn’t always register. A genius bar employee diagnosed it and it was repaired in about an hour. But, in order to replace the button, the entire front assembly including the bezel, display, and touch screen was also replaced.

In another experience a year ago, the case of my MacBook Pro along with the keyboard were replaced when the trackpad stopped working.

This is quite a change from how products used to be designed for repair, where a single component would be replaced.

In reviewing many of Apple products’ construction on the iFixit site over the years, you can see that Apple designers have changed many of the rules of mechanical design. Instead of designing for easy repairability of each component, such as the battery, display or switch, they’ve created products in which many of the parts have complex sub-assemblies, held together with adhesive or clips not designed to easily come apart, and instead designed to be replaced as an entire unit. As a result, these products receive a low rating from iFixit for repairability.

Perhaps it’s important to make it easy for repairs to be done by those without extensive training to disassemble and remove defective components. Swapping out a module is a lot easier and faster than removing one component buried deep under other components. Cost of manufacture can be much less if parts are not needed to be separated after assembly. The replacement parts, of course, are much costlier, because a good display is discarded along with a bad home button.

This is another area where Apple’s design methodology has bucked conventional thinking. While I can only surmise all the reasons, it makes sense from the standpoint of providing the type of good service I received, available in most all of their stores: the product was repaired quickly in an hour or a day. From that perspective, repairability is great. And that counts more than an iFixit rating.

I suspect much of the motivation behind this design methodology is also to make their products as thin and light as possible. Batteries no longer need to be enclosed in housings mounted in place to allow their removal. Instead, the bare batteries are glued to the enclosures. The iPhone’s non-removable battery caused an uproar but now this is becoming common practice, as exemplified by Samsung’s latest series of Galaxy phones. The elimination of a couple of walls of enclosure translates directly into a thinner product.

But this design approach also burdens the cost of recycling. It’s much more labor-intensive to separate the parts for recycling. You wouldn’t want to throw a battery along with a printed circuit board assembly and an aluminum housing all stuck together into the same recycling bin. The question becomes how well Apple considers the recycling of their products when designing them.

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Phil Baker

Phil Baker is a product development expert, author, and journalist covering consumer technology. He is the co-author with Neil Young of the forthcoming book, “To Feel the Music,” and the author of “From Concept to Consumer.” He’s a former columnist for the San Diego Transcript, and founder of Techsperts, Inc. You can follow him at

23 thoughts on “Apple’s Poor Repairability Ratings: Not What They Seem?”

  1. When the focus is service, there’s also the options to
    1- Instantly exchange the defective device for a factory-refurbished one
    2- optionally, doing it on-site instead of having the customer come to a service center
    3- make most repairs easy to do for the end users. I’m guessing the 4 items screen, port, buttons and casing are 95% of the issues.

    1 and 2 are superior to Apple’s method from most users’ perspective (unless you live next to an iStore)

    Design considerations aside, the main idea is that extended warranties make a mint for the suppliers, but are statistically a bad deal for the consumers. By making its devices non-user repairable, and rising the cost of individual repairs (Apple repairs a 3x more expensive than others’), Apple makes sure more customers buy its very juicy warranties.

    It seems to work, so good for them. They’re now even combining that with their perpetu-lease program, displacing carriers as retailers… Brilliant !

    1. It’s much more fun to go for the sinister conspiracy when explaining a company’s actions, but I generally try to avoid that in serious analysis especially if I find myself going for the evil empire explanation behind actions that pretty much every other company is doing. In this case trying to sell juicy warranties and packing more and more components in the same form factor thus making user repairability less and less feasible.

      The fact is, the trend in electronics, since the day the industry was invented, is to pack more and more functions, and thus components, in ever smaller form factors. (Okay there’s a limit, dictated by ergonomics, on how small a device can get, but you know what I mean.) To lay this robust industry trend on a desire to sell ‘juicy warranties’ strikes me as the most inane of propositions.

      Actually, the causation, if there is one at all, goes the opposite direction: Rising component density and the resulting reduced user-repairability makes warranties an easier sell. You had all the dots that needed to be connected but your personal animus got in the way of clear and logical analysis.

      1. You have posited a reasonable and well thought out response to this. I too prefer your approach, over a conspiracy theory. That is, until there’s good reason to suspect conspiracy over a confluence of behaviors. I would be more inclined to go with your approach, if Apple didn’t seal their laptops, down to the RAM, for instance.

        Still, needing to replace several components over the failure of one is inherent in such tight integration. It also imparts an air of ‘disposability’.

        1. I am talking about the overall motives and rationales that drive industries and companies. Was Apple unaware of and uninfluenced by the knowledge that sealing their laptops would help drive warranty sales? Of course they were. Are warranty sales the primary motivation that drives this and other Apple design decisions? Of course not.

          ‘Disposiblity’ in the electronics industry was not pioneered by Apple. Do I wish that the tech industry didn’t generate so much junk? Yes I do. But the solution there is government regulation that right now most people would consider onerous and against the principle of free enterprise that our country holds dear. Right now, technology, markets and the regulatory and institutional environment (not just in the US but the whole world) is set up in such a way that the user pays for the benefits of owning his or her own computing device, but the cost of disposing of the junk that will be generated when that device is replaced is borne (or suffered) by all, including future generations. And human nature has invariably dictated that solutions are deployed only when it’s already or almost too late.

          1. Indeed. Sometime in the future, wars will be fought over lithium and rare earth metals. Guess who has the most? China!

          2. ‘Are warranty sales the primary motivation that drives this and other Apple design decisions? Of course not.’

            No, but it may protect the ‘gravy’

            Still, the Expresscard slot was removed from the MBP, prematurely, because of Unibody. Could a Unibody design accommodate Expresscard? Of course it could. The 17” MBP was both Unibody and had Expresscard. It was taken out due to operational efficiency in reducing parts count corporately. This is why I said ‘confluence of behaviors’.

          3. I think the repairability thing comes into play one step down: not when choosing to make and sell laptops/desktop/phones, but when choosing a design. Not only are looks and assembly cost savings prioritized, but generating more warranty revenues via non-repairability and higher sales via non-upgradability is at least a nice side effect.
            You see that planned obsolescence in iMacs too, where the HDD isn’t even user-upgradeable. Perfectly good iMacs are becoming unusable because HDD and USB2.. go buy a new one, and don’t forget to pay for that screen too, it’s welded in.

          4. Wholeheartedly agree. Much has been said in praise of the 5K iMac. Ben Bajarin said that basically, judging from the cost of then competing 5K monitors, you’re getting the Mac for free.

            Here’s the problem with that. I get a mediocre Mac, for $2K, with an i5, at a price that was then comparable with a competing 5K monitor, that I can’t upgrade. But I still can’t use it ‘as’ a monitor!

          5. Mac prices are usually OK when they come out, but they don’t go down and it is indeed throw-away stuff.
            Dell’s 27″ 5K monitor is now $1.600 on, enough to throw in a Core i5 mini-PC. The iMac is still $2k.

          6. I have iMac and have had the Geek Squad at Best Buy replace my drive 3 different times. So a failed drive doesn’t mean you have to scrap your iMac. Mine is from 2007 and it works just fine with El Capitan. When 1 TB SSD get cheap enough I plan on swapping out my HD and adding an SSD

          7. Indeed, but that’s not what I’d call an end-user upgrade. That’s when you can do it yourself, like my brother-in-law just did with his Samsung laptop’s HDD: couple of screws, done.

          8. “Not only are looks and assembly cost savings prioritized, but generating more warranty revenues via non-repairability and higher sales via non-upgradability is at least a nice side effect.”

            Won’t argue with that.

  2. I think it’s important to note that Apple will reuse or recycle not only their own electronic refuse, but from other manufacturers, as well, at no cost to the consumer. Which is important, because this form of trash is a huge problem.

  3. Okay, I’m exaggerating, but this approach is like swapping out a whole car because the ashtray’s are full. But what service!

  4. Just to be clear, Iphone batteries are not glued into place. Iphone batteries have always been and still are easily replaceable, as long as you have the right screwdriver and aren’t afraid to take the phone apart. I assume that iphones remain easily repairable/refurbishable (unlike, say, ipads, which are glued shut) because carriers need to be able to service the phones they sell.

    Macbook batteries are the ones that are glued into the case bottoms nowadays.

    Ifixit pitches a fit about glued-in batteries this every single time they do a macbook teardown, but I really don’t see why — Apple’s macbook batteries are rated to lose only 20% of their capacity after 1000 full discharge cycles — which basically means even if you run the battery down to zero every single day, after three years your 10 hour battery will still be good for 8 hours. With that kind of durability, by the time the battery needs to be replaced, you’re most likely going to be trading the notebook in for a new model anyway.

    1. Based on discussions with one of the major battery manufacturers that supplies batteries to Apple, these batteries lose 20% of their capacity within 300-400 full cycles, in spite of what Apple says.

  5. The number FRUs in electronic items have been decreasing since the invention of the transistor. Why are we talking about this?

  6. You’re missing the point, you shouldn’t feel like you have to take it in to Apple to get it repaired. As consumers who purchase a device we should have full right and capability to go into our devices and fix them, as needed. And to do so without threat from Apple or the law. iFixit provides a repairability score so that we can better understand what we’re purchasing and the repair implications of doing so before we purchase.

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