It’s not illegal to have your devices repaired by a company that isn’t Apple — but Apple would really prefer you didn’t know that. The company has aggressively pushed for product locks in all aspects of its designs over the last few years, likely as part of a bid to boost its “Services” revenue. The price of AppleCare and the price to fix devices that aren’t covered by AppleCare have all increased over the same time period.
Now, the infection has spread to MacBook Pro laptops, despite the fact that Apple’s own laptop track record isn’t exactly great these days. First, Apple designed a laptop keyboard so terrible, it can jam on a grain of sand with no way to replace just the keyboard; the excessive use of glue requires replacing multiple components. The second-gen redesigned keyboard didn’t fix this issue, so the company had to build a third keyboard to finally (mostly) prevent the problem altogether.
Then Apple shipped its new Core i7 and Core i9 refreshed laptops with a bad thermal management implementation that caused huge amounts of system throttling in a manner that should’ve been immediately obvious to anyone at Apple running a quality control test on the system. And by “quality control test,” we mean Cinebench R15, a free benchmark that takes between 2-5 minutes to run depending on which tests you select.
Given these events, you’d be forgiven for thinking Apple is the last place you should send a laptop for repair, which is probably part of why Apple has taken steps to ensure you won’t be going anywhere else. As Vice details, documents distributed through the Apple Authorized Service Provider program show that Apple has introduced software lockouts into the MacBook Pro repair system. If Apple’s proprietary system configuration software isn’t run after the laptop is repaired, the system will lock itself and scream that an unauthorized repair has been performed. The software activates for any repair that involves the MBP’s display assembly, logic board, keyboard, touchpad, or Touch ID board. The report said iMac Pros are impacted if the motherboard or any flash storage are touched. And the system won’t function again unless an Authorized Service Provider runs the Apple Service Toolkit 2 on it.
“For Macs with the Apple T2 chip, the repair process is not complete for certain parts replacements until the AST 2 System Configuration suite has been run. Failure to perform this step will result in an inoperative system and an incomplete repair,” the Apple support document reads — or appears to have read, since MacRumors originally reported this quote but since pulled it from the story.
Several years ago, we called Apple a dongle company that happened to make smartphones. This may have been the right idea, but it targeted the wrong product category. Apple is now clearly focused on pushing up Services revenue, and a recent story highlighted that much of that growth has come from increased sales of things like AppleCare as opposed to App Store sales or movie downloads. It’s also come from growth in the payments Apple demands from Google, reportedly up to $9B to serve as the default search engine on iOS. You might not think of that as a “service” payment Apple collects, but Apple does.
You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to see the pattern here. Apple has created a situation in which its products are seen as cutting-edge and often copied by competitors (and yes, Apple copies its competitors as well). Its focus on specific device characteristics has often led other companies to pursue similar capabilities, thereby pushing the industry to focus on these particular traits. But when you put an all-glass back on a smartphone or require a laptop to run a piece of software that only your company has access to in order to be certified for repair, you’re making a series of deliberate decisions with downstream ramifications.
Apple will undoubtedly claim that its Apple Service Toolkit 2 represents proprietary information because it connects to and “talks” to a proprietary Apple processor. But this was undoubtedly part of the plan from the beginning — build a system with proprietary parts, then design proprietary software to communicate with them.
If you’re one of the Apple fans that’s been hoping the company would kick Intel out of its laptops and create its own processors to replace them, shifts like this ought to give you pause. Apple is using its own homegrown T2 chip as a means to lock down its entire ecosystem and freeze out third-party repair stores. It’s scarcely going to back off this behavior if it starts building its own SoCs for its laptops. And its service pricing can cost more than half the cost of a new device if you didn’t buy its extremely expensive extended warranty.
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