Apple Punishes iFixit For Doing A Tear Down On Apple TV

from the really-now? dept

The past two Techdirt podcasts had special guest Kyle Wiens, the CEO of iFixit, discussing both the DMCA’s anti-circumvention review process and the more general importance of the freedom to tinker. In those podcasts, Wiens talked a bit about some companies being more willing than others to support iFixit’s efforts to help people repair or modify products they had purchased.

Apple, apparently, is not a fan.

The company, which is famous for its somewhat arbitrary decisions to reject certain apps from appearing in its iTunes store, has now pulled iFixit’s app entirely. Though, this time it’s not necessarily for “arbitrary” reasons, but because Apple is pissed that iFixit took the Apple TV device that Apple sent the company, and did a teardown on it.

Of course, that makes you wonder what the hell Apple expected iFixit to do, since teardowns are kind of its thing.

Not too long ago, we tore down the Apple TV and Siri Remote. The developer unit we disassembled was sent to us by Apple. Evidently, they didn?t intend for us to take it apart. But we?re a teardown and repair company; teardowns are in our DNA?and nothing makes us happier than figuring out what makes these gadgets tick. We weighed the risks, blithely tossed those risks over our shoulder, and tore down the Apple TV anyway.

A few days later, we got an email from Apple informing us that we violated their terms and conditions?and the offending developer account had been banned. Unfortunately, iFixit?s app was tied to that same account, so Apple pulled the app as well. Their justification was that we had taken ?actions that may hinder the performance or intended use of the App Store, B2B Program, or the Program.?

Live and learn.

iFixit notes that it’s not too concerned about this. Its Android app still works, and it’s been improving its mobile site so you don’t really need an app in the first place. And also, iFixit offers open APIs that would allow others to make their own apps that use iFixit data (though whether or not Apple would approve such an app is another question).

But, still, in this age where so much of what we buy is computerized and a complete black box, one of the key points of last week’s podcast was the importance of learning what’s really inside these boxes. Given that Apple’s earliest roots come from Steve Wozniak hacking around devices and building something better, it seems like a real shame that Apple is not only not supporting such activities with its own equipment, but it’s actively punishing those who do so.

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Companies: apple, ifixit

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Comments on “Apple Punishes iFixit For Doing A Tear Down On Apple TV”

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71 Comments
Scote (profile) says:

iFixit is in the wrong

Normally I’m with Techdirt on issues where Apple punishes someone for doing something they don’t like. Not this time.

iFixit, maker of cool tear downs and seller of vastly overpriced tools*, accepted a *pre-release* version of an Apple TV meant for developers to create applications – and they agreed to an NDA. They knew this, and admit they decided to roll the dice anyway and publish a tear down of the pre-release version because, clearly, they relish publicity. In their own words: “We weighed the risks, blithely tossed those risks over our shoulder, and tore down the Apple TV anyway.”

Had iFixit been punished by Apple for a teardown of a consumer release I’d be all over Apple for that.

* Like this set of 15 jeweler’s screwdrivers for a mear $59 (allegedly marked down from $80).

https://www.ifixit.com/Store/Parts/Pro-Tech-Screwdriver-Set/IF145-239-1

Socrates says:

Re: Re: Re: Learning the hard way

Nate: There are consequences for breaking a contract, as iFixit learned the hard way.

Working at iFixit will be duller if it has to wait as long as “Joe Whomever” for every new device that is released. I suspect that learning will be quite prolonged.

JMT: There are consequences for giving a product that you don’t want taken apart to a website whose raison d’être is taking stuff apart, as Apple has learned the hard way.

Abuse of thrust is almost always learned the hard way. Don’t send interesting stuff to iFixit, they will treat you like they did Apple.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: iFixit is in the wrong

And I disagree with you all. Let me bring the last paragraph:

Given that Apple’s earliest roots come from Steve Wozniak hacking around devices and building something better, it seems like a real shame that Apple is not only not supporting such activities with its own equipment, but it’s actively punishing those who do so.

Nowhere in the article they are saying it’s ok to break a contract or something but rather they are criticizing the company for blocking activity that actually gave birth to it. It’s not painting ifixit as the victim but rather Apple as a complete hypocrite with an assholish icing.

Scote (profile) says:

Re: Re: When did Woz violate an NDA to make Apple I?

“Nowhere in the article they are saying it’s ok to break a contract or something but rather they are criticizing the company for blocking activity that actually gave birth to it. It’s not painting ifixit as the victim but rather Apple as a complete hypocrite with an assholish icing.”

Really? When in the history of Apple did Woz violate a developer NDA on pre-release hardware to create Apple I? I don’t seem to recall that as being bullet point in Apple’s history.

Apple isn’t punishing iFixit for doing a teardown of consumer release hardware. If the were then you might have had a point. But they didn’t and you don’t. Instead they are punishing iFixit for using it’s developer account to get access to secret pre-release hardware, covered by a commercial NDA, and breaking that NDA so that iFixit could get commercially valuable publicity for it’s business. It was an admittedly calculated move on the part of iFixit.

Josh in CharlotteNC (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: When did Woz violate an NDA to make Apple I?

When in the history of Apple did Woz violate a developer NDA on pre-release hardware

The way I remember the story, the first prototype Woz created while he worked for HP, using his knowledge of what in today’s world would be called HP’s intellectual property, without their permission.

It almost killed Apple in the cradle.

He had to take his invention into HP later and get permission to start making and selling more. Luckily for Apple, HP saw no value in it and let him go forward, thinking it was no threat to them.

The point? Woz didn’t ask for permission first. Neither did iFixit.

lfroen (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 When did Woz violate an NDA to make Apple I?

> using his knowledge of what in today’s world would be called HP’s intellectual property
No, your knowledge in today’s world is not called “intellectual property”. Now, ‘knowledge” is stuff in your head. Whatever is in company-supplied notebook may be an “IP”. Anyway, when you’re only “working on something” is not a violation of any sort.

>> He had to take his invention into HP later and get permission
So, where’s contract violation? He GET a permission. See the difference?

>> Woz didn’t ask for permission first
Huh? What happened with “He had to … get permission”?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: iFixit is in the wrong

ifixit says “We weighed the risks, blithely tossed those risks over our shoulder, and tore down the Apple TV anyway”.
So it’s explicitly said by fixit that they knew it was not OK to break contract.

The article is trying to portray Mike’s new buddy as the victim, it’s just that it fails as they are a victim of their own making

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: iFixit is in the wrong

I used to read techdirt on a daily basis because much of what was written here resonated strongly with my own interests and opinions. However, I stopped reading a few years ago because I found the only thing worse than the diehard trolls, was the diehard fanatics like yourself.

This is a very clear cut case of a company violating the agreement they signed and this story is desperately trying to paint this as something it isn’t.

This is a complete non-story. Substitute iFixit for any other random developer account and the same result would be seen.

As you fanatics are so keen to point out to the trolls, your parallel with how Apple started out is nothing but an incredibly weak straw man designed to distract from the real (non) story.

I already regret getting sucked into this nonsense story.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: iFixit is in the wrong

Seriously…

It is clear ifixit violated the contract and Apple is not wrong in punishing them, technically.

Substitute iFixit for any other random developer account and the same result would be seen.

Precisely, it’s about Apple, not ifixit.

As you fanatics are so keen to point out to the trolls, your parallel with how Apple started out is nothing but an incredibly weak straw man designed to distract from the real (non) story.

Hmmm, the real story is about Apple and the hypocrisy it displayed. I’ve disagreed with TD stories before but this one is not one of these times. From the beginning it was clear to me that the story was about Apple. Maybe the author could make it clear that there was a breach in the contract and Apple is in its right to take said actions but this is not the focus of the article.

I already regret getting sucked into this nonsense story.

You are free to ignore it as I’ve already done with many stuff but yet you are exposing your point and I’m disagreeing. Masochism?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 iFixit is in the wrong

Hmm.

If it is not about IFixit, then it can’t be about Apple either!

Substitute Apple for any other designer of hardware that sends pre-release devices to registred developers and uses NDAs to prevent undisclosed hardware secrets from being smeared all over the internet, and you would have the same result: breach of NDA contract => all the repercussions thereof.

Remember that iFixit used the pre-release version of the AppleTV that it got through its subscription to the Apple developer program. It’s not as if Apple explicitly sent one to iFixit as some sort of bait. If iFixit had waited until the retail version came along, bought one (or gotten one from Apple for that matter), torn that apart and published pictures of that event, Apple would probably have reacted different (if at all). After all, iFixit has repeatedly torn apart officially released Apple products in the past, without any ‘retaliation’ by Apple.

So you see, not the tear down of the hardware itself, but the publication of the details of the pre-release version of the hardware was the offensive action.

And as such, it’s much more about the breach of contract by iFixit than about the reaction from Apple.

A f*-up by the author, sure, but I take it more as proof that he’s just as human as the rest of us…

As the guys from iFixit said: “Live and learn”.

D says:

Re: Re: iFixit is in the wrong

Agreed. This is not a case of someone tearing down a product that they purchased. This is a pre-release developer tool that comes with an NDA. If you don’t like the NDA you can wait 2 months and order the regular version like everyone else. iFixit could have posted a teardown of the released version without incident. They knew the consequences of violating the NDA (termination of their developer account) because they agreed to them and even acknowledged that they took a risk.

iFixit is in the wrong and Mike Masnick completely ignores the truth of this story. Techdirt shouldn’t even have posted it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: iFixit is in the wrong

It is worse than that, iFixit had to enter Apple’s dev lottery. So iFixit used their app dev account to gain access to a device in which they had no intention of developing for. I’m sure there are plenty of developers out there who would’ve loved to have gotten their hands on the early access of the dev kit, but iFixit decided they wanted more publicity and knowingly violated their NDA.

I’m a bit shocked at the lack of asking some of the most basic questions there Mike. Instead you went ahead and threw a pity party for iFixit…

JoeCool (profile) says:

Re: Re: iFixit is in the wrong

Well, until we see the actual NDA terms, I’m going to have to disagree. I’m a dev and have gotten pre-release hardware and signed NDA’s on them, and not a SINGLE ONE EVER said ANYTHING about not tearing the device apart. Apple probably never even considered this. Notice in Apple’s statement how wishy-washy the EXCUSE they gave for terminating their account. They had to make up some way that they had violated the NDA to punish them for breaking an unwritten rule of pre-release hardware.

Scote (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Publishing not tearing down was the problem

“not a SINGLE ONE EVER said ANYTHING about not tearing the device apart”

iFixit didn’t get in trouble for tearing down the secret, developer release hardware, they got in trouble for publishing the teardown, a teardown that revealed proprietary details of the pre-release hardware, details covered by the NDA.

Socrates says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Publishing not tearing down was the problem

I concur

I wholeheartedly support iFixit whenever they make tools to circumvent Apples attempts to bar owners from access to their own devises. I would be OK with iFixit selling such tools from day one (based on the unit they were given).

But breaking the thrust with the flimsy excuse that “it’s kind of our behavior pattern” shame iFixit. If they have to do without such perks for years it would be deserved.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: iFixit is in the wrong

You appear to have missed my main point. If I were a developer of iOS apps or similar devices and lets say I applied to the same lottery. Getting early access to a dev kit would be a pretty big deal. If my chances of receiving one of those kits was reduced because someone signed up just to breaks theirs, I would be pretty pissed. It is a developer’s kit, not a demo model.

It is pretty obvious they knew they were violating the NDA when they say “We weighed the risks, blithely tossed those risks over our shoulder, and tore down the Apple TV anyway”. They acknowledge they ignored possible consequences, and are now complaining because they’ve received consequences…

As for tearing down the device, I don’t think that is really the issue. I would have to say publishing an article detailing the device while under NDA is probably more of what Apple is angry about.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: iFixit is in the wrong

“I’m a dev and have gotten pre-release hardware and signed NDA’s on them, and not a SINGLE ONE EVER said ANYTHING about not tearing the device apart.”

Interesting. I am a dev as well and have obtained a lot of pre-release hardware. In every single case, the contract I signed contained a “no reverse engineering” clause. Teardowns are reverse engineering.

But the real issue isn’t that. It’s the NDA. If iFixit had done the teardown and not published until general release, Apple would not have had an issue (or, worst case, would never have known).

It’s the disclosure that they have a problem with.

Chris-Mouse (profile) says:

Re: iFixit is in the wrong

According to Apples website, the announcement of the new Apple TV device was made September 9th 2015. The edit history on the iFixit article indicates it was posted September 21st.
It does not appear that iFixit released anything before Apple made it public. At worst, what they did was destroy a pre-release version to save them the trouble of standing in line at the Apple store to buy one.
Given Apple’s previous attitude to product leaks, I suspect that had anyone at Apple thought the NDA had been violated, there would be a lawsuit already.

daggar (profile) says:

I expect this to decision by Apple to be retracted soon. Probably a case of two branches of a large corporation working out of sync– unfortunate, but not uncommon. Hopefully bad press like this will pull them in line.

Of course, Apple’s famously arbitrary appstore review process is still problematic. When the only way to force a review is to heap bad publicity on the company, something should change.

lfroen (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Bad press? You must be joking. Not a week passes without Techdirt publishing something about how bad Apple is in some new in interesting way.
Now it is someone break NDA they signed to get pre-release hardware. And they want to get away with it because Apple’s roots are in “hacking”? Really? I for all my nativity thought that NDA is a contract you supposed to honor. It is not consumer EULA where everyone clicking “I agree” without reading.
Apple people are not “pissed off”. They are reacting to contract violation in a way that defined in very same contract. Surprise, ah?

Scote (profile) says:

Re: Please read the article and links before making knee jerk responses.

iFixit, in this context, isn’t a customer. They signed up to receive early access to Apple hardware (secret pre-release hardware) as a software developer. That special, developer-only early access came with a Non Disclosure Agreement, which iFixit knowingly violated because they wanted the publicity. They could have just waited for the consumer release of the final product, bought one of the earliest ones (they’ve flown as far as Australia to do that) and made a teardown and there would have been no issue.

They broke a commercial NDA, not a consumer EULA. iFixed pretty much forced Apple to punish them lest Apple’s developer NDAs be ignored by other developers and partners in future. iFixit admits to doing this knowingly.

DB (profile) says:

I don’t think that their tools are unreasonably overpriced.

Overpriced, yes. Unreasonably so, no.

That 15 piece screwdriver set is about $4 per driver. Which is about what Craftsman precision screwdrivers used to sell for — the old standard for top quality consumer-grade tools. Professional brand name tools still sell for considerably more.

I don’t expect that these are actually as good as Wera screwdrivers. And they certainly don’t have the same benefit as Wera — near certainty that they are close to the best quality available.

But iFixit does have a good overall reputation, and it’s on the upswing. They aren’t in a position to be cashing in on their old brand reputation with bottom-tier tools (hello Craftsman). So their brand is worth a healthy mark-up over similar tools from a random seller. I expect that these have a generous profit margin, and I expect that are suitable for serious hobbyist use albeit a little riskier than buying Wera and similar branded tools.

Mark Wing (user link) says:

I get that they violated the NDA. But still, you send a company that takes every device it gets apart, and make it promise not to take your device apart, and then you’re surprised that they took it apart–c’mon.

Add to that, the company sending the device is known for douchey behavior and closed ecosystems, and all that adds up to it being hard for me to have much sympathy for Apple here.

But yeah, two wrongs don’t make a right, and you would think that buying devices through normal channels, where you don’t have to sign anything, would be safer for a company that does tear-downs. That’s what I mostly do as a reviewer, and has the added benefit that the maker can’t cherry pick the samples that I see.

Mark says:

This headline is misleading

The headline is misleading, bordering on (if not exceeding) factually incorrect, and the text of this piece does nothing to correct those problems. Apple didn’t “Punish[] iFixit For Doing A Tear Down On Apple TV”; Apple punished iFixit for violating the terms of the NDA iFixit agreed to when it became part of the Apple TV pre-release program.

Apple hasn’t said word one when iFixit tore apart publicly available products; however, the pre-release Apple TV isn’t publicly available yet. This has nothing to do with corporations being bad or Apple hindering the freedom to tinker; this is about iFixit disobeying the terms of a contract it agreed to in exchange for access to a pre-release product. And as others have pointed out, iFixit knew they were violating their NDA. There are many cases of corporations overreacting and stifling consumers. This is not one of them.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 This headline is misleading

Well I had never heard of iFixit, so I wouldn’t know what they would do with it. Seems a more accurate headline would have been “Apple Punishes iFixit For Publishing A Tear Down On Apple TV in Violation of NDA”. Not quite as catchy though. Or really just “Apple Punishes iFixit For Violating Contract” but that doesn’t make the story sound very exciting, does it?

Moonkey says:

Re: Re: Re:2 This headline is misleading

Wait until the NDA expires? This only takes a bit of thinking to be reasonable.

Don’t set up strawman arguments, because Apple was trusting that companies would not say anything about the TV until the general release of the TV. Again, the point here is that Apple was not punished them for tearing it down, but for publishing the internal workings.

The reason why it can be interpreted as factually incorrect is because it can make people assume they were punished for TEARING it down. Not publishing pictures or videos, etc.

Now, I’d have a completely different opinion if the Apple TV had serious flaws right before the general release and someone broke the NDA to tell people about that, but no.

Anonymous Coward says:

Wow. Leaving out a tiny detail really alters the impression of this story.

By publishing a developer’s release, I’d say ifixit is lucky they didn’t face a lawsuit. It’s incrediably difficult to lauch products before a Chinese factory hasn’t reverse engineered it and/or sold the cheap version. The lead time between product lauch and however long shipping takes to get to China is usually all they have. Apple has done well in keeping products secret until their release in the past, and I have to assume a part of that is due to respect from developers for their NDA’s.

Whether someone personally likes Apple or not, the company deserves respect. Their products have altered the design and direction for many consumer products and offer much needed competition in the marketplace. Obviously there are a lot of consumer’s who do like their products. Considering this was a “screw you” moment from ifixit, I think Apple’s response was mild.

Lesson learned that every story is only than half of it, no matter where it comes from.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Are you serious? Respect is earned, not given, and some people like me don’t like apples design language, hardware or software. They have influenced things in ways I find hard to believe, and have no respect for them whatsoever. Their dead co founder was an arrogant perfectionist and deserves nothing but scorn for his lifelong behavior.

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