I would like to speak personally for a moment on an issue that is quite important to me. The subject matter is difficult and polarising, considering the specialty of this website and discussion forum, but I’ll aim to be as reasonable as I can be. I’m not seeking conflict. I’m just concerned.
I started repairing computers and electronics when I was seven years old. I bought my first computer with pocket change, around five dollars in total, and a bunch of scrap parts. It’s been my passion and even my identity for as long as I can remember. When I turned 18, I landed my first job at an Apple service centre repairing Macs, and the rest is history.
Never before have I actually feared for the future of consumer electronics and repair as much as I do now.
Computer and electronics repairers lost a battle last month when the Fair Repair Bill, which aimed to allow independent repairers to provide repair services to customers without fear of legal action, was dismissed by the New York State senate and not even tabled for a vote following input from a consortium of manufacturers including Apple, IBM, Cisco and Xerox, who actively opposed the bill.
So it was a dark time for independent repairers.
The second blow came in the form of the announcement that Tekserve, precursor to the Apple Store and one of the worlds most notable and loved Apple Resellers and Authorised Service Providers, would cease operations as of August 15th after 29 years in the Apple business. The company cited a “cultural shift” as being a key contributor to the demise of their business.
“This is a cultural shift,” the company’s chief executive, Jerry Gepner, said in an interview in his office above the store. “It’s not a failure of the business. It’s like this giant wave finally crashed down upon us.”
The company was a popular destination for Apple enthusiasts to purchase, repair and talk products with other enthusiasts. It was less of a retail front and more of a gathering place. Lined with products from throughout Apple’s history and set in an old-world charm that made them perhaps the most well known name in the Apple reseller and service provider business not just in America but around the world, Tekserve was as much of a free exchange of knowledge, history and wisdom as it was a place for customers to come and have their needs taken care of.
“We love our customers, and we love what we do,” Mr. Gepner said. “But there comes a point where that doesn’t make sense anymore, as much as we love it.”
It stands to reason that if the most loved among us can fall, anyone can. As Apple continues to move more toward mail-in depot repairs rather than carry-in to a local authorised service provider, and withholds necessary equipment, diagnostic tools and service parts to Apple’s own repair depots and retail stores, that it will only become more difficult for service centres to continue supporting the products that Apple sells.
Which is a shame. Because Apple Stores won’t service products like the service centres do. You can’t have a hard drive replaced in a vintage product, or a machine that has been removed from sale for 5 years or more, at an Apple Store because Apple doesn’t service vintage products. Apple won’t preserve your data, or rebuild your filesystem, or rescue those precious photos, because at the Genius Bar a software issue is a complete wipe and reinstall. All services that at one point the local service providers were able to offer, but that too will soon come to an end.
The third blow hits home the hardest. Louis Rossmann, owner and primary technician of the Rossmann Repair Group in New York City, has long been an outspoken advocate of the repair industry. He provides services to customers that most other repairers can’t offer, including Logic Board rework and repair, data recovery from failed boards and SSDs, screen replacements on MacBook Air and Pro Retina, and then some, often at a cost significantly less than what the Apple Store would charge. In addition he services machines that Apple have deemed too old to service.
But he is most well known for his repair videos on YouTube, where he teaches others with no electrical background or prior experience the basics of how electronic components work, how to troubleshoot faults in electronic circuits and how to repair their own Logic Boards at home. I learned a lot from Louis, including how to repair my own MacBook Pro 17" when its Logic Board failed and how to troubleshoot and repair a water damaged Retina MacBook Pro when it wouldn’t start up and return it to service. Prior to attempting these repairs I had no experience in repairing circuit boards, but in his videos and through direct correspondence with him on occasion, I now absolutely love it. So I have great respect and admiration for Louis. I couldn’t thank him enough.
But Louis’ repair business may face a difficult road ahead, after a video he uploaded contained a rather ominous message of impending legal action or dispute between himself and a company that is yet to be identified.
Louis has since updated his video to state he is not being sued, but he has “no idea what I’m getting actually… and the suspense sucks”.
The community has since rallied around Louis and Rossmann Repair Group, mirroring his videos and making the entire catalog available via torrent should YouTube receive a takedown request and close the channel. Without knowing exactly what he is facing due to the vague nature of the video and scarce information being made available, it has been a tense 24 hours for not only Louis, but also the wider community of repair technicians that looked to him and his resources for information and guidance.
But it doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of challenges ahead for the repair industry of consumer products, both authorised and independent. Unfortunately as is common, a lot of it is under non-disclosure and not able to be made available as public knowledge. As a matter of fact, everything I mentioned above I am able to state because it’s information that has already been made available to the public, complete with public-facing sources such as 9to5mac, iFixit, YouTube and Reddit, and nothing I have said is subject to confidentiality.
With all of these factors combined, whenever I think about it, I’m left with the same conclusion every time - I’m afraid of what comes next. I think the fear of being out of work is a contributing factor but the fear of where we are headed in consumer electronics, and the power that companies are free to exert over someone doing independent repairs and sharing that knowledge with others, scares me a lot more.
It leaves me with a dilemma, whether to stand my ground and continue working to my strengths, perhaps becoming a circuit repairer or a specialist in a different area, or whether to leave the service and repair industry altogether for something with more stability, less restrictive and not as open to litigation, although thankfully that last one is not so much of an issue here.
I wouldn’t be the only one in the computer industry reconsidering their future given recent events. I sure would appreciate knowing how they intend to deal with it though. Ah well. All in due course.