Apple attacked for the “serialization” of its spare parts

The Paris prosecutor’s office announced on Monday May 15 the opening of an investigation targeting Apple for deceptive commercial practices and planned obsolescence. This procedure follows the complaint lodged by the French ociation Halte à l’obsolescence programmed (HOP), in December 2022, mainly denouncing the practice of serialization.

The replacement of certain iPhone spare parts with a serial number indeed causes inconvenience for the user, unless going through a repairer approved by Apple. Some elements are not affected, such as the rear window and the speaker of the iPhone in particular, but the two most common repairs are thus hindered: the screen and the battery.

When inserting a new battery into an iPhone, an alert appears: “Important battery message. Unable to verify if this iPhone has an original Apple battery (…). “Agonizing words that” generate frequent returns to after-sales service from worried customers “, according to Alexandre Isaac, founder of The Repair Academy, a company that trains many repair technicians. Also, in the menus of the iPhone, the battery usage statistics disappear, like the information on its state of health.

As for the original screen of an iPhone, it loses a key function when it is replaced by a generic screen: its brightness and tint no longer adapt to ambient lighting. Worse still, when replacing the Face ID sensor of the iPhone (part allowing to identify the face of its owner to unlock it), this tool no longer works.

Expensive repairs

Many brands ign serial numbers to their spare parts. But, except at Apple, it is extremely rare that the change of a part thus restricts the operation of a telephone, notes Alexandre Isaac. “Serialization was born in 2010 with the iPhone 4he recalls. And over the years it accelerated, involving more and more parts, culminating in the iPhone 12 released in 2020.” The number of parts affected by these limitations has since remained essentially the same for the following models.

This system can push consumers concerned to avoid any problem to entrust their broken smartphones directly to Apple or to repairers authorized by the brand. The latter can indeed circumvent the restrictions by accessing the official coins at advantageous rates, then by unlocking them. thanks to the direct help of the manufacturer. However, their services are generally expensive: repairing an iPhone 14 screen, for example, costs 340 euros – or a third of the price of a new device.

Independents, on the other hand, see themselves apply prohibitive prices for access to official documents, as shown by an investigation by the World in October 2022. Which is all the more embarring since they represent the overwhelming majority of repairers present on French territory. As for the reconditioning specialists, “they can’t even reuse official second-hand parts from dismantled smartphones”regrets Alexandre Isaac. “They too have major problems with returns to after-sales service. Some customers ask for their mobile to be changed after the appearance of an alert. »

A practice contrary to the principle of the anti-waste law

In France, serialization is theoretically prohibited, according to Alexandre Isaac. Since the entry into force of the anti-waste law in November 2021, the consumer code thus mentions that “any technique, including software, by which a marketer aims to make it impossible to repair or recondition a device or to limit the restoration of all the functionalities of such a device outside its approved circuits is prohibited”.

In the absence of case law, however, the outcome of the prosecution’s investigation is not guaranteed. For Laetitia Veur, founder of HOP, three outcomes are possible: “The investigation could lead to nothing, give rise to a penal transaction negotiated with the repression of fraud (DGCCRF), or lead to a trial. In any case, it can take several years. »

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Requested by The world, Apple did not wish to react to the opening of the investigation. But in 2019, the American brand justified the serialization of iPhone batteries by invoking ” Security ” of its customers and its desire to “protect damaged, poor quality, or worn batteries, which can cause performance or safety problems”. She ured that she wanted to ensure that battery replacements are done correctly”. An argument then little appreciated by independent repairers.

Nicholas Six

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