Apple software reportedly hobbles independent third-party repairs

Any change that involves Apple's new T2 chip must be verified by software that only authorized service providers can get, according to Apple documents.

Lori Grunin Senior Editor / Advice
I've been reviewing hardware and software, devising testing methodology and handed out buying advice for what seems like forever; I'm currently absorbed by computers and gaming hardware, but previously spent many years concentrating on cameras. I've also volunteered with a cat rescue for over 15 years doing adoptions, designing marketing materials, managing volunteers and, of course, photographing cats.
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Lori Grunin
2 min read

If you need to fix your 2018 MacBook's keyboard next year, you may need to forget about taking it to the local repair shop. According to MacRumors, any repairs involving the T2 chip in 2018 systems must be completed by running specific Apple diagnostic software that's only available as part of its authorized service provider program.

The site obtained internal guideline documents for Apple's official service providers -- including Apple stores -- detailing that if the software isn't run, repairs to the display, logic board, Touch ID (which means Touch Bar), keyboard, battery, trackpad or speakers on the newest MacBook models can result in a dead system. On the iMac Pro, it applies to fixes for the logic board and SSD.

If true, this doesn't seem like an unusual move for Apple. The company supposedly has special equipment for repairing iPhones as well.

This tactic may vastly limit the repairs that can be performed by "unauthorized" -- but frequently more convenient or less expensive -- third parties. It could pose a problem in a variety of situations: when systems "vintage out" of Apple support five years after they're discontinued; if you don't have access to authorized repair facilities; if you're used to performing your own upgrades; and possibly for enterprise customers who'll be unable to perform some upgrades and repairs they're used to doing in-house.

Part of the reason may be integration. The T2 chip acts as both a generic controller for audio devices, SSDs and more, as well as the security gatekeeper for booting, storage encryption and ID verification. (And it's not the first issue Apple's run into with the T2 chip since it originally launched.)  

Apple didn't respond to a request for comment. 

In a post Friday afternoon, iFixit performed its own test of the so-called "secret repair kill switch," and found that while its own repairs didn't lead to the laptop being shut down, there's still cause for concern for DIY-inclined MacBook owners.

"It's very possible that a future software update could render these 'incomplete repairs' inoperative, and who knows when, or if, a fix will follow," iFixit's Adam O'Camb wrote.

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First published Oct. 5, 12:57 p.m. PT.
Update, 4:25 p.m. PT
to include iFixit's testing.

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