Thoughts on Apple's Independent Repair Provider Program

I can honestly say I didn't see this coming. On August 29th, 2019, Apple announced they would begin not only selling original OEM parts to independent repair businesses, but also provide them with the tools, guides, training, and diagnostics required to complete repairs on out of warranty iPhones. This is great news.

It's a surprising turn of events from a company that has spent years lobbying against  Right to Repair bills across the nation. These steps might be a sign that Apple is listening to the demands and reality of their customers, namely more local and (relatively) inexpensive repairs for their products. Even in the United States, the existing network of Apple Stores and Apple Authorized Service Providers is extremely lacking, especially for those outside major city-centers. Internationally the situation is almost laughable, with people of many countries not having access to official Apple Stores at all. Granting independent repair providers access to original Apple parts and tools will mean that iPhone users in need of repair service will have more options at their disposal outside of paying exorbitant fees for Apple's out-of-warranty repairs.

Program Information

How this program works appears fairly simple. Repair shops with an Apple Certified Techician can apply to join for free. Once approved by Apple, they supposedly "can gain access to Apple genuine parts, tools, training, service guides, diagnostics and resources" needed to complete a variety of repairs on out-of-warranty iPhone models. While detailed information is still lacking at this time, presumably this will allow independent providers to finally overcome longstanding issues in the repair community, such as Touch ID replacement, unverified batteries displaying warnings, missing True Tone capabilities after a repair, and other issues arising from using non-genuine parts.

Independent shops will still not be "authorized" by Apple to complete warranty repairs, nor will their technicians be reimbursed by Apple for their time and labor in the same way Apple Authorized Service Providers are. I would imagine independent shops also won't be advertised on Apple's store locator to those seeking iPhone repairs. These are small differences between this program and the AASP program, but they shouldn't be overlooked.

Part Availability and Cost

Because this program is so new not much information is known about the parts that will be available to order, the tools that will be available, et cetera. However, an article issued to current AASPs was leaked, detailing some possible information for us to look through. Notably, pricing for some parts was included in the document, including "exchange" pricing and "stock" pricing. Exchange pricing is the price a shop will pay for parts if they return the old/damaged part to Apple. Stock pricing is the price you would pay for the part otherwise.

Part Exchange Price Stock Price
Batteries for 6S/7/8/6S_/7P/8P 33.15 132.09
Batteries for X/Xr/XS/XS MAX 57.85 168.85
6S Display 156 197.60
6SP Display 175.20 216.80
7 Display 156 197.60
7+ Display 175.20 216.80
8 Display 156 197.60
8+ Display 175.20 216.80
X Display 317.55 362.79
Xr Display 207.20 239.20
XS Display 317.55 362.79
XS MAX Display ?? 417.47

There are some concerns I have with this pricing. Battery exchange pricing to me seems very reasonable for original quality parts. For some reference, aftermarket batteries for most iPhones currently costs repair shops $7-$15 per battery, which is cheaper than the pricing Apple will supposedly provide. However, paying a premium for very high quality batteries that won't display "Service" warnings is a cost most shop owners and customers will likely be willing to pay.

The screen pricing on the other hand seems completely unreasonable, and in some cases the part itself appears to be more expensive than Apple's own out-of-warranty screen replacement costs. A high quality aftermarket screen for the iPhone 8 runs current shop owners around $20. $156 for an original screen is going to be a hard sell for many shops, especially because that price doesn't factor in the shop's labor and markups. I can see this pricing being worth the cost in a few circumstances. Situations where Touch ID or Face ID components are damaged may warrant the additional cost for a new display and Touch ID pairing. Other than that however, I don't see many shops going with these screens as their main offering.

The pricing outlined in this document is mostly speculative at this point until we see some more concrete information. Other leaked Apple service documents start battery pricing at around $16 for example, and cap screen pricing at around $350 rather than the $417.47 quoted above. However, I wouldn't expect it to vary too dramatically from this table. The parts sold through this program will likely be at a significant premium compared to the aftermarket pricing independent shops are used to, and when it comes down to it they likely won't make sense for many repairs. Owners of devices more than a few years old will be most motivated by price, and when given the option between an original Apple screen or an aftermarket screen that will provide 95% of the quality for less than a third of the cost, likely won't be choosing Apple's parts.

Luckily, this program will not prevent independent shop owners from offering that option to their customers. Shops will still be able to offer non-genuine parts from other vendors even if they join this program, so at the very least Apple's initiative will merely give customers more options, even if it isn't fully utilized.

Outside of screens and batteries, we don't know what parts will be available to independent shops through this program. Apple claims that independent shops will have access to the same parts available to AASPs, but the reality of the situation is that AASPs don't actually have access to a whole lot. Today, AASPs are essentially a glorified shipping center for Apple, sending devices that need anything more than a simple screen replacement to a centralized facility. In some cases they are forced to replace devices completely, even when independent shops would find the problem an easy fix.

Certification

Another aspect of this program that will likely be of interest to third-party repair shops is the certification process. Any technician ordering and replacing parts as a part of this program will be required to become an Apple Certified iOS Technician. This certification consists of two exams: the "Apple Service Fundamentals Exam (SVC-19A)" and the "ACiT 2019 iOS Service Certification Exam (iOS-19A)".

These exams are $20 each and are administered online (not proctored in a testing location). They are 70 questions each and they are open resource, so you can use online resources to help you answer questions, however you only get 2 hours to complete the exam, so researching every question isn't feasible. You need 80% on each exam to pass, and once you pass both you will be certified. As a part of this Independent Repair Provider Program, Apple will waive the fees on these exams after your business is accepted.

Training courses for these exams can be purchased by anybody from Apple for $299 through a product on their store, "AppleCare Technician Training". It is unclear at this time whether Apple will provide this training to IRP Program members after they are accepted. I would assume it will not be provided for free, but shop owners should apply to the program first to see if it is. If I find anything out about it I will update this post.

The SVC-19A exam contains all the basic knowledge Apple expects technicians to know. Topics include:

  • Customer Experience: These are skills you would use to interact with customers, gather information, explain technical concepts to customers, etc.
  • ESD Precautions: You will need to know the specific precautions Apple recommends taking to prevent ESD damage, identify the effects of ESD damage, and identify common myths regarding ESD.
  • Safety: You will need to identify safety precautions and policies Apple technicians must adhere to, demonstrate how to handle batteries safely, and respond to battery damage events.
  • Troubleshooting: You will need to identify the different stages of troubleshooting, demonstrate deductive reasoning skills, and show how to use "smart questioning techniques and first-level evaluation and isolation skills to identify issues as being generally hardware-based, software-based, educational, or environmental in nature"
  • Product Knowledge: This section is mostly software related and will have you demonstrate how to do basic tasks in macOS and iOS, like running backups, finding menus, etc.

Two topics in particular, ESD Precautions and Safety, should be carefully studied. If you get more than two questions wrong in either category you will fail the entire examination regardless of your overall score. I would flag any question mentioning "ESD", "safety", or "batteries" during the test, and revisit them at the end of the exam. The exam is open resource so I would highly recommend researching the answers for each of these questions even if you think you know the answers, to make sure there are no mistakes in those sections.

The "iOS" related exam, iOS-19A covers a wide variety of iPhone related topics, including software and hardware repairs. This exam consists of 41 questions on troubleshooting again, this time with more of an emphasis on specific iOS and iPhone issues. It also contains 29 questions on servicing iPhone, including identifying "the correct specialized tools, fixtures, and procedures required to service" specific iPhone models.

Out of the two exams I would say the second iOS examination would be difficult for even experienced technicians to pass without any AppleCare Technician Training beforehand. The Service Fundamentals exam was largely common-sense or knowing basic tasks, but the iOS examination contains many questions related to Apple specific tools and procedures. You need to know things like the color of the screwdrivers they use on certain phones to the icons on the repair trays they use to remove displays.

And unlike the Apple Certified Macintosh Technician exams—the training materials of which have been copied and reproduced on a variety of websites over the years—the iOS test is much newer and contains many questions with answers simply not available to the public. Luckily, the examinations are only $20 each—pocket change compared to other industry certifications—and can be taken an unlimited amount of times, so it may be worth taking one as a sort of "practice" to get a feel of the tests.

Overall, this certification process makes sense for the program. Some shop owners may think of the process as unnecessary because their technicians already perform these tasks on a daily basis, but from Apple's perspective the ability to weed out inexperienced businesses will allow them to assure a quality experience for even out-of-warranty customers and deal with less warranty issues with their parts. Many of the warranty returns part providers currently deal with are from inexperienced individuals not completing a repair properly or not using the correct tools or parts for the job. This certification at the very least demonstrates to Apple that you are less likely to file too many warranty claims through this service.

Final Thoughts

This program isn't the perfect solution we're looking for. It only covers certain iPhone models—no mention of iPads or their line of computers!—and only certain parts. But this program comes with the admission that perhaps the "regular" shops and people are indeed capable of repairing Apple's products, and it's an important step in the right direction. Rather than criticizing Apple for the small flaws in this program, we should be congratulating them on this step towards a more comprehensive repair program. Encouraging this behavior from big businesses like Apple will make it more likely that programs like this will be introduced and expanded in the future.

As it stands, only a few established businesses will be eligible for this program. Individual users and smaller businesses looking to repair phones with original parts will still have to look elsewhere. But hopefully this program will extend to everybody else in the future, and we'll see more repair-friendly solutions from Apple in the product announcements to come.

I am not yet a part of this program, so I don't have any other "insider" information on this new service, this is all just based on information currently available to the public and information made avaliable to me as I went through the certification process. I did just recently become an Apple Certified Macintosh and iOS Technician in order to apply for this program, so I'll be hopefully finding out more information in the future. I'll have to wait and see what NDAs apply before considering an update at that time :)

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