An Apple MacBook has had a sensor fixed by a German repair shop which managed to circumvent the company’s protections put in place to stop unauthorized third parties from making such repairs.
Forbes reports that the outfit, NotebookNerds (in Dortmund, Germany) achieved the feat using a tool (dubbed ‘Nerd.Tool.1’) purpose-built to facilitate a single MacBook repair. Namely the lid sensor (on the MacBook Pro and Air) which detects if the laptop is closed.
If that lid sensor goes wrong, the MacBook owner will have to suffer with a notebook that no longer detects that the lid is closed (and thus stays powered on, not turning off the screen and wasting battery, when it should be conserving power).
While a duff sensor might be curable by removing, say, corrosion, if that’s present, the sensor may well require replacing. The problem is that it isn’t as simple as taking out the non-functional sensor and putting in a new one.
Even if you’re capable of performing that repair, Apple has a system in place whereby some components (like this sensor) are paired to the logic board, and require a special calibration tool to ensure the new sensor is accepted (or that it works fully – it may work on the face of it, but certain features won’t). That tool is used by Apple, of course, and provided to certified repair shops, but beyond that, third-party repair outfits don’t have access to it.
So basically, NotebookNerds has made its own version of this tool which according to the report works to allow a lid sensor replacement. Although it must be said, experts are surprised that this workaround could be applied.
Forbes spoke to Ricky Panesar, founder of iCorrect (a repair firm), who said of the fudged tool: “We all thought the [lid angle sensor] was paired to the logic board in a way that you could not copy the data over…but he’s been able to copy that data, which is genius.”
Note that it only works for this one repair, but the possibility exists that the concept could be extended to cover other components that need similar authentication when replaced in order to work properly.
Analysis: A fairer and more affordable price for repairs?
This is a pretty big deal. Why? Because if hacks and tools like this come into wider play – and really work to give a replacement part full functionality within the MacBook – a whole load more repair shops will be able to fix Apple laptops.
And those third-party repair outfits that can then get in on the act may well save consumers a good deal of money with the pricing they offer (which is notoriously steep from Apple). And with more competition for repair work, prices will be driven down naturally, of course.
Apple won’t let this happen, though. Will it? Well, the company could certainly move to prevent such workaround tools in the future. As Ricky Panesar also told Forbes, such tools wouldn’t work with the iPhone 15 because it uses more in-depth encryption than the MacBook, so Apple could also go that way with its laptops, too, perhaps.
We can’t imagine Apple will be pleased with this development, but on the other hand, the company has been relaxing its attitude towards repairs a bit. As Forbes points out, replaced selfie cameras on iPhones recently got back some features that were previously disabled. Furthermore, in the US, we’ve seen Apple pledge its support for the Right to Repair bill in California.
Those kinds of moves could possibly be happening because Apple has caught quite a bit of flak for what is judged as consumer-unfriendly policies in this area (not to mention environmentally unfriendly), and it’s trying to undo the damage.
As iFixit, another big name in the repair community, put it recently: “Based on how Apple designs their products and the relentless, unparalleled focus on user experience, they could easily be a leader in creating the best self-repair experience in tech. Yet, we don’t see that. Apple needs to do better.”
Okay, so steps towards doing better may now be starting to filter through, slowly – we hope. Although Apple’s reaction to this episode could be quite telling in terms of how far we can expect the MacBook maker to be going in terms of changing its policies on repairs.
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Darren is a freelancer writing news and features for TechRadar (and occasionally T3) across a broad range of computing topics including CPUs, GPUs, various other hardware, VPNs, antivirus and more. He has written about tech for the best part of three decades, and writes books in his spare time (his debut novel - 'I Know What You Did Last Supper' - was published by Hachette UK in 2013).