How easy will Apple’s new deal make it to repair your own phone?

The problem with phones, as anyone who has ever dropped one knows all too well, is that no matter how smart they are, they’re still vulnerable.

Apple is to start allowing DIY repairs on its phones
Apple is to start allowing DIY repairs on its phones

Their screens may have been enriched with proprietary anti-shatter treatments but glass is always going to be breakable. The same goes for all the other bits that are exposed to the elements: the charging port, headphone socket and camera lens.

Until now, the breakage of any one of these components has led to an expensive repair bill or even necessitated a replacement – especially in the case of Apple products, for which spare parts have never been readily available.

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But that changes next year, with the introduction of the company’s first self-service repair scheme, which allows owners to order replacement components and any tools necessary to fit them. The service will begin in the US next year, with Britain expected to follow within a few months.

Until now, only service technicians authorised by Apple have been able to access the parts, tools and service manuals that might save an iPhone or iPad from the skip. The company has always maintained that it would be “dangerous” to make them more widely available, and its U-turn is in response to a global campaign against what many saw as anti-competitiveness. Apple’s long list of requirements on where replacement parts could be sourced from, for instance, made it unlikely a random component from a broken phone could be re-used in another handset, and even Steve Wozniak – the company’s co-founder, who built the first Apple computers in a garage with Steve Jobs in the 1970s – had come out against the practice.

Yet fixing a phone remains a specialised business. The miniaturisation of components and circuits necessary to make phones as smart as they are means that attacking one with a pair of pliers is never going to get you very far. Each model is different but a screen replacement typically involves a suction tool to prise the damaged LCD panel from the body and perhaps a soldering iron to connect the new one. It also involves a great deal of patience.

That’s why, for most people, the neighbourhood phone repair shop is the most sensible option. Most are independent, so prices and expertise vary, but it should be possible to get a screen or socket replaced on most phones for far less money than a replacement. The more commonplace your handset, the easier it will be for a repair shop to find parts, and they only really come unstuck when faced with models bought online and not officially available in the UK.

It takes about an hour’s labour to repair or replace a charging port, and you can expect to pay upwards of £25 plus the cost of any parts.

But if you’ve had estimates from several shops and they’re all too expensive – and if you’re handy with a watchmaker’s screwdriver – a DIY repair may be worth a punt. Before you break out your toolbox, though, go on YouTube and watch someone else do it, for there isn’t a phone in the world which someone with too much time on their hands hasn’t filmed being taken apart and put back together.

Spare parts for Android phones can be found on a variety of websites and are often available at a considerable discount from suppliers other than the original manufacturer. This is especially true of components like sockets and loudspeakers, which are common to several brands. As of next year, you should be able to get your hands on Apple components in the same way.

Don’t forget, though, that prevention is always better than cure – and a couple of pounds invested today in a screen protector could be the best maintenance of all.

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