In what has become a growing battle between big tech companies and the people who use their products, iconic Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak recently spoke out in support of the right to repair movement.
In a recent Cameo video made in response to another major right to repair advocate Louis Rossman, Woz said his busy schedule had previously prevented him from getting deeply involved with the topic, he now felt it was time to speak out on something that has “really affected me emotionally.” After doing his own research on the issue, Woz said he “totally supports” the right to repair movement and that the people behind the movement are “doing the right thing.”
In the video, Woz goes on to illustrate how the prevalence of open-source tech was instrumental to many of his and Apple’s early breakthroughs like being able to manipulate video input on TVs back in the day, which eventually helped pave the way for the Apple I. Woz also cited the breakup of Ma Bell as a catalyst that helped open up consumer choice when it came to telephones, allowing people to make better gadgets in a wide range of designs and colours, while Apple even shipped the Apple I with full design specs, allowing home users to more easily understand and tinker with the device.
Of course. the irony here is that even though Woz hasn’t been an official Apple employee since he left the company in 1985, Apple along with other major tech giants like Microsoft have been some of the biggest players in the fight against the right to repair movement, with Apple typically forcing its customers to visit its stores or mail in their devices to make even the simplest of repairs, lest they void their device’s warranty.
However, after years of building momentum, new support from figures like Woz, and similar efforts in other countries, the swell behind the right to repair movement — which seeks to allow users the freedom to repair their own tech and devices — feels like it’s finally reached a tipping point.
Earlier this week, reports surfaced claiming the Biden administration is preparing to issue a new executive order compelling the FTC to draft new rules regarding right-to-repair regulations, potentially enshrining people’s ability to repair their own gadgets in law.
Notably, according to Bloomberg, Biden’s directive is expected to include language recommending that the new regulations include specific mention regarding the reparability of mobile phones and other machines like farm equipment which is often software-locked by the manufacture, preventing farmers from servicing their own equipment.
And while the U.S.’s final rules and regulations will ultimately be determined by the FTC, including things like mobile phones in the U.S. right to repair legislation would be a critical point of differentiation compared to the U.K. who recently enacted its own right to repair laws covering devices like TVs and washing machines, while leaving out support for other consumer tech such as phones and laptops.
In the end, right to repair laws aren’t only important for giving people the ability to service and repair their own devices, they could also be instrumental when it comes to supporting the next generation of engineers, who like Woz, could someday use skills developed tinkering with gadgets to help create the next big tech company.