In 2003, Cal Poly computer science freshman Kyle Wiens accidentally dropped his Apple iBook and broke it. He couldn’t find a repair manual online, so he figured out how to fix the laptop himself — then made a repair manual to share with others.
Over the past nearly 20 years, Wiens has been co-founder and CEO of iFixit, a company that provides repair manuals, tools and parts for electronics. He has been helping customers repair anything broken ever since.
“Our mission is to teach everybody in the world how to fix all their things, whether it’s an iPhone or a vacuum,” Wiens said.
Since he founded the company, Wiens has also continued to pressure manufacturers to help their customers do their own repairs and provide manuals as manufacturers try to divert consumers away from repairing their devices with liability and warranty threats.
Wiens’ vision is about to get a step closer to reality beginning in early 2022, as Apple will begin offering its first ever repair manuals, tools and parts to consumers who want to fix their own devices.
Wiens said that after all the years without providing repair services, Apple finally caved in due to a threat of legislation inspired by the Right to Repair movement, which has gained momentum in recent years as more and more consumers, and organizations like iFixit, have been asking manufacturers and lobbying legislators to encourage manufacturers to give them the right to repair their own devices.
“Apple puts a secret screw on the bottom of the phone and doesn’t provide any way to get inside,” Wiens said. “I think it’s really insulting to citizens to say, ‘yeah, this is magic and you can’t know what goes on inside.’”
iFixit’s website claims that Apple has the power to “decide when devices go obsolete,” making it more difficult for people to repair their phones and instead influences them to purchase new ones.
Wiens said he is excited about the initiative and thinks that his company could potentially benefit from Apple’s new information to make their manuals better.
“We’re excited to welcome Apple to the party,” he said. “We’ve been enabling Apple’s customers to fix their own things for a long time, so it’s great to have Apple also be enabling that.”
One of the main reasons iFixit encourages people to repair their broken devices instead of replacing them is to reduce the amount of e-waste that electronics create, Wiens said.
In order to save time and energy, phone manufacturing companies should begin designing devices that are meant to last between 10 and 20 years, he said. After their full lifespan, consumers should be able to use them as an alternative device such as a “smart thermostat or calendar.”
“It’s 250 pounds of raw material dug out of the ground to make this phone to then say, ‘oh, yeah, we’re gonna use it for a year or two’ and then toss it away when the battery dies,” Wiens said. “That’s ludicrous.”
The amount of unsustainable minerals, chemicals and metals that are used when manufacturing a new device can harm the environment, Corinna Donovan said, the president of Cal Poly’s Zero Waste Club.
One of the biggest contributors to climate change is the “short-term mentality” of device usage from consumers, Donovan said.
“I know that the batteries are pretty intensely put together, so I think that if those are decomposing or breaking down in an environment that’s not controlled or where they’re supposed to be, that could have some hazardous potential,” she said.
Even though Donovan and Wiens advocate for extending the lifespan of electronic devices, Wiens said he understands how the fear of someone replacing their own phone can come into play.
Over the years, Apple has claimed that consumers intending to repair their own devices could result in dangerous outcomes.
“I would say we’ve been a little bit brainwashed,” Wiens said.
Business administration senior Adonis Osua said he is not “technical enough” to take a phone apart, begin rewiring and assemble it back together.
Even if Apple’s new repair service offers all the necessary resources to repair his phone, he said he fears that he may cause more harm to his broken device if he were to accidentally do something wrong.
“It just kind of depends. If I think I can really do it myself then I probably would, but if I have any little doubts, I’ll just take it to a professional,” Osua said.
But Wiens said that fixing a phone isn’t as dangerous as it may seem — as long as a person is able to follow through with a step-by-step guide, repairing a phone is possible for any consumer.
“If you can follow Ikea instructions, you can fix a phone,” he said.
After years of working with computers and repairing phones, Wiens thinks that all electronics should be made repairable, and finds it “infuriating” that companies like Apple tend to create barriers between a consumer and the ability to fix their device.
“It’s all planned obsolescence. [Apple] doesn’t want you to fix your phone, they want you to buy a new one,” Wiens said. “They’re not the most profitable company in the history of the world by accident.”