By Stephen Hackett
December 1, 2020 3:14 PM PT
Apple’s ‘vintage’ list needs rethinking
This week, Apple added several machines to its list of vintage models:
- iMac (21.5-inch, Late 2013)
- iMac (27-inch, Late 2013)
- iMac (21.5-inch, Mid 2014)
- iMac (Retina 5K, 27-inch, Late 2014)
- iMac (Retina 5K, 27-inch, Mid 2015)
If you aren’t familiar with it, Apple’s vintage list is for products “that have not been sold for more than 5 and less than 7 years ago.”
Once Apple hasn’t sold a product for seven years, it’s considered “obsolete,” meaning the company won’t offer any repair services. But vintage products exist in a liminal space: Despite what I learned when I called Apple Support, Apple Stores as well as AASPs can, in theory, repair them for you “subject to availability of inventory, or as required by law,” according to Apple.
In practice, people in the repair community told me Apple isn’t particularly interested in fixing vintage tech. “The AASPs I’ve spoken to in the past have told me they don’t bother with customers looking to repair older devices,” said Rob Link, a right-to-repair advocate who owns a company that sells repair parts for older devices including iPhones, iPods, and iPads. In the past, Link said, he would call up AASPs to see if they had older parts to sell “but I would stop when no one did.”
So after a machine is marked vintage, serious repairs get tricky. Once seven years pass and that product gets added to the obsolete list, they are all but impossible.
This can put users in an awkward position if they experience a hardware failure, especially if their hardware — including all of the iMacs listed above — are still supported by the current version of macOS and are perfectly capable machines.
This wasn’t such a big issue ten or fifteen years ago when Mac OS X moved at a slower pace and Macs were full of spinning disks, but today, Macs last longer than ever, and a new version of macOS shows up every fall. I suspect that Apple silicon-based Macs will remain viable for even longer. (In Apple’s defense, newer versions of macOS don’t always run great on older hardware, and new features may not be supported at all, but that’s really a story for a different time.)
Apple should extend the number of years it supports Mac hardware. Such an extension would give users more options when it comes to running older Macs, which is good for the environment, customer loyalty and third-party repair shops.
There’s a big reason I don’t think we’re going to see that. Aaron Holmes at Business Insider writes:
Apple hasn’t turned a profit on repairing people’s broken devices in the past decade, the company disclosed this week…. The company made the disclosure in response to a House Judicial Committee probe, which is investigating whether Apple engages in anticompetitive practices to edge out competition when it comes to repairs and third-party apps.
It’s not all doom and gloom. In the last few years, Apple has opened programs to give third-party repair providers1 better access to parts, tools and diagnostics, but that doesn’t really solve the problem of the ticking clock.