Apple’s Cement Overshoes

Cory Doctorow
13 min readMay 22, 2022

80 pounds’ worth of malicious compliance in two Pelican cases.

A polluted, plastic-strewn ocean-bottom; prominent in the foreground is a smashed iPhone; overhead is Apple’s Think Different wordmark.
Conall/CC BY 2.0, modified

A Feature, Not a Bug

Apple CEO Tim Cook rang in 2019 with his annual shareholder letter, fulfilling his legal requirement to warn his investors about the risks the company saw on its horizon. One of Apple’s leading risks for 2019? Repair.

Apple makes a lot of money from the absence of repair. The transition from desktop PCs to laptops and then tablets and phones was a fantastic opportunity for hardware companies. A desktop PC might go obsolete, but it’s rare for your iMac to suffer a broken screen, fall into the toilet, get run over by a city bus, or fall down a sewer-grate.

The migration of Apple’s products — from our desktops to our backpacks to our pockets to our wrists and ears —meant that a predictable fraction of Apple’s gadgets would suffer physical misfortunes long before they became obsolete.

This was a crossroads for Apple. The company could have prioritized repair, building devices with “screws, not glue” and other repair-friendly measures. It could have nurtured an ecosystem of independent repair shops, places that could fix your smashed screens or dead batteries while you waited. That would have been in keeping with the company’s founding ethos: a whole generation of hardware hackers got their start when their parents brought home an Apple ][+, which came packaged with Steve Wozniak’s schematics for the machine.

The alternative was to treat drops, slips, cracks and battery depletion as features, not bugs. Apple could go to war against repair, and in so doing, it could capitalize on those mishaps by selling its customers new devices on a regular basis —and annihilate the market for used, refurbished systems.

That’s the path Apple took. The company embraced planned obsolescence, designing products with ever-shorter duty cycles. It recruited the US Customs Agency to block the importation of refurbished parts from overseas, falsely labeling these as “counterfeits,” even going so far as to etch minuscule Apple logos on parts that no one would ever see, as a means of invoking trademark law so it could have refurbished parts seized at the border.

Cory Doctorow

Writer, blogger, activist. Blog:; Mailing list:; Mastodon: