If You Want Something Done, Do it Yourself: With Self-Service Repair, Apple Takes Point on FTC Enforcement

AJ Handler

In November, Apple announced Self Service Repair, a new program that will give customers access to genuine parts and tools to perform repairs on their own Apple devices, beginning in 2022 with the iPhone 12 and 13, and including Mac computers after that.[1] The announcement comes in the wake of a policy statement adopted by the Federal Trade Commission, which in July voted unanimously to enhance enforcement against repair restrictions found to violate antitrust or consumer protection laws.[2] Consumer advocates have welcomed the FTC policy as a win for end users, independent service shops, and the environment.[3] Big Tech firms have long opposed a “right to repair,” citing concerns about consumer safety, privacy, and data security, but Apple’s leadership on the issue could signal a breakthrough for the industry.

Forty years ago, the young Steve Jobs explained that the personal computer was, like the bicycle, “a tool that amplified an inherent ability,” namely human intelligence; with the invention of the (Apple II) personal computer, Jobs said, “we created a new kind of bicycle…a new man-machine partnership…a new generation of entrepreneurs” for the twenty-first century.[4] For Jobs, the PC represented a redistribution of human intelligence and thus productivity. Its principle innovation, of course, was in the personal, even “friendly” nature of its user’s relationship and creative interaction with it: Personal access to powerful problem-solving tools could “help every individual deal with the complexity of modern society.”[5] By the end of the 1980s, Jobs predicted, “personal computing will not be a mystery to anybody.”[6]

Apple’s later advertising slogans would suggest something of these machines’ dual nature, alternately individualized and general-purpose tools, designed to liberate creative expression and unlock entrepreneurial efficiency: Think Different. It Just Works.

It’s easy to take for granted the role that phones, laptops, and tablets have come to occupy in our everyday, digitally integrated lives. But our relationships to these ‘personal computing’ devices have evolved in rather dramatically beyond what existed before Apple’s influence on product configuration and user experience—from form factor to retail design to customer service and support—helped usher in what was then heralded as a ‘Post-PC era.’


As if anticipating recent developments in the tech industry, the nostalgic debut novel by Tamara Shopsin, Laser Writer II, published in October, portrays the height of the PC era at the storied independent computer-repair shop Tekserve during the 1990s.[7] Tekserve was an early Apple-authorized reseller and service provider, which opened on West 23rd Street in 1987, fifteen years before the introduction of the first Genius Bar at Apple’s SoHo flagship store. Until it finally closed down in 2016, Tekserve was known as a New York City institution, something of a countercultural crossroads where, as Shopsin’s novel illustrates, misfits of various stripes, consumer electronics enthusiasts, early adopters, and evangelists, all manner of techies and tech-illiterates alike met face to face. Shopsin’s protagonist, Claire, is a computer novice who, after taking a job at Tekserve, finds her calling as a repair technician: “A noble calling that helps people make poetry and do their taxes.”[8]

These days, computers still hold endless possibilities, but for the ordinary user, the novelty of writing poetry or doing taxes on a computer has been likely overcome by senses of necessity and inevitability. If enlisting the power of computer technology to systematize everyday tasks was once an ennobling entrepreneurial virtue, it is now perfectly common, if not oftentimes compulsory. Still, a sense of mystery remains about these devices on which we so rely. We do indeed expect them to just work, all the time, and when they don’t, we’re all the more disempowered for it.


At Apple’s annual sales conference in October 1983, Jobs spoke to the structure of the burgeoning PC marketplace when he described Apple as “the only hope to give IBM a run for its money,” and “the only force that can ensure [the] future freedom” of the dealers whose sales and distribution networks depended on the synergy between Apple and independent developers who built specialized software and peripherals to offer personal computing solutions to Apple’s “installed base” of general-purpose users. With the threat of a resurgent IBM crowding out competition in the PC marketplace Apple had pioneered and established, Jobs asked, “Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire Information Age?”[9]

If Apple’s Self Service Repair program does no more than make it easier for third-party service providers to properly repair Apple devices, thus creating more meaningful choices for consumers in the marketplace, at least it would be true to the rallying spirit of Apple’s early years in competition with “Big Blue” IBM. Today, Apple is the industry titan. It’s within Apple’s power to set the standards of a “right to repair” as a matter of user experience design, and to address various concerns which have been voiced within the tech industry.[10] In so doing, Apple’s Self Service Repair program may be a first, small step toward restoring some modicum of control in the user to make their own decisions about their personal tools.


[1] Apple Announces Self Service Repair (Nov. 17, 2021), https://www.apple.com/newsroom/2021/11/apple-announces-self-service-repair/.

[2] FTC to Ramp Up Law Enforcement Against Illegal Repair Restrictions (Jul. 21, 2021), https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2021/07/ftc-ramp-law-enforcement-against-illegal-repair-restrictions.

[3] Brian X. Chen, “What Apple’s New Repair Program Means for You (and your iPhone)” (Nov. 17, 2021), https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/17/technology/personaltech/apple-iphone-self-repair.html.

[4] Steve Jobs, “When We invented the Personal Computer…” in Computers and People 30, no. 7-8 (1981), available at https://www.waynekirkwood.com/images/pdf/Steve_Jobs_When_We_Invented_the_Personal_Computer.pdf.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Tamara Shopsin, Laser Writer II: A Novel (New York: Macmillan 2021).

[8] Shopsin, op. cit., quoted in Heller McAlpin, “Laser Writer II Hides a Dark Corporate Fairytale Under its Rosy Nostalgia” (Oct. 24, 2021), https://www.npr.org/2021/10/24/1048537825/laser-writer-ii-tamara-shopsin-review

[9] Steve Jobs, “1984” Ad Introduction, Keynote address at Apple Computer, Inc. Annual Sales

Conference, Honolulu, HI (Oct. 22, 1983), available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lSiQA6KKyJo.

[10] Apple’s overall platform security has long been acknowledged, and famously, under Tim Cook’s leadership, Apple has scrupulously reported its treatment of user data, positioning itself as a champion of privacy protection, for example, in its notorious 2016 encryption dispute with the FBI. See https://www.apple.com/customer-letter/.