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This article first appeared in Digital Edge, The Edge Malaysia Weekly on December 14, 2020 - December 20, 2020

There is no denying that iOS devices manufactured by Apple Inc have a certain charm. That is why people are willing to fork out a substantial amount for them, not to mention the subsequent repairs and maintenance.

However, after repairs, they are often not up to par, especially if the owner chooses to bypass the official route once the device warranty expires and get it fixed by any computer repair shop, which may not do as good a job but will charge much less.

Considering how much people paid for the device in the first place, Jerome Teh feels there should be a better way of doing things. The co-founder of Second Life Asia Sdn Bhd (Secondlifeasia) says that even though iOS devices are considered to be the best in the market, there is always the chance that the products could malfunction or become damaged.

“You could end up spending between RM6,000 and RM12,000 for a new iPhone or MacBook but still suffer once the warranty expires if the phone is damaged or the screen cracks or the MacBook becomes buggy due to software issues,” he points out.

“While it can be a simple task to find a local service centre, the question is whether it is best suited to handle the job. When we walk into an authorised Apple service provider with a small issue such as a keyboard, screen or battery replacement, it usually doesn’t get fixed on the spot or even on the same day.

“Moreover, it complicates things when you are forced to wait a whole week for a complete service by these providers. Some service providers will keep your MacBook for 7 to 10 working days, which can inconvenience you considerably, especially if the problem is not that severe.”

This prompted Teh to establish Secondlifeasia in 2018. The company uses certified factory parts to repair and maintain iOS devices. And to ensure transparency and reliability, he and his team came up with an iOS diagnostics application to support their repair services.

The service centre in Petaling Jaya’s SS2 began operations in December last year. “You can watch Secondlifeasia technicians fix your device right in front of you, giving you peace of mind in the process,” says Teh.

Why iOS devices in particular? He says it is because users have limited quick and affordable options when it comes to repairing their devices or sending them for maintenance.

“Being Apple users ourselves, we have experienced such problems multiple times, bringing our iPhone 7 to relevant parties and being told it would take up to seven working days just to swap a battery. There are many small shops that focus only on iOS or MacOS, but none that focus on both iOS and MacOS,” says Teh.

He adds that Apple smartphones that operate on the iOS platform make up around 25% of the smartphone market. “We can safely say there are roughly 8 million iPhones in the Malaysian mobile ecosystem. In terms of MacBooks and iMacs, there should be more than 2.5 million, with iPad making up roughly 10% and Apple Watches between 0.5% and 1%.”

As authorised outlets take too long to carry out repairs, many opt to get their devices repaired by third-party service providers. “We don’t have the figures but based on statistics from the US, about 20% of users repair and replace their parts annually, which comes up to about two million,” says Teh.

He says Secondlifeasia, being a relatively new start-up, hopes to achieve 12,000 repairs annually. “We intend to be the go-to repair and maintenance service centre for all Apple devices within three years.”

He adds that as iOS devices are priced at a premium, it is cheaper to repair than to replace them. An iPhone can last up to five years while a MacBook can last up to seven years, he points out.

“We are still repairing and maintaining many MacBooks from the 2011 to 2015 period, which make up the majority of our repairs. Apple products have a much longer lifespan than that of Windows and Android products,” says Teh.

While it is difficult to state the exact cost of repairs, he says changing the battery of an iPhone 7 costs anything from RM250 while a MacBook battery costs RM699 and above. “The benefit for the customer is that they get a 12-month warranty as Secondlifeasia uses only certified factory parts. In addition, the parts are replaced on the spot and repairs don’t take days unless the device is so severely damaged that it is in DFU mode, dead on arrival or water damaged.”

DFU, or Device Firmware Update, reloads the software and the firmware of an iOS device.

Despite the high cost of iOS devices, tie-ups with telecommunications companies have made them accessible to a broader set of consumers. And usually, once the contracts expire, customers are given the option of upgrading their devices.

However, citing a 2016 Deloitte Global report, Teh believes many customers would repair or replace the faulty parts in their devices so they can hand them to their children, parents or relatives, or sell or trade them in for a new device.

According to the report, titled “Used smartphones: the US$17 billion market you may never have heard of”, at least 10% of premium smartphones, worth US$500 or higher, purchased new in 2016 will end up having three or more owners before being retired, and will still be used actively in 2020 or beyond.

Deloitte’s analysts found that about half of the devices are expected to be traded in to manufacturers or carriers in exchange for credit towards a new smartphone. The remainder will likely be sold online privately, to retail shops or second-hand device specialists.

“For consumers, the primary incentive to sell a device — rather than keeping it as a spare, giving it to a family member or throwing it away — will likely be driven by the ease of doing so, the lustre of owning the latest model and the trade-in value on offer,” states the report.

In addition to its repair and services facilities, Secondlifeasia also offers leasing of iOS devices to small and medium enterprises. As Apple comes out with new models frequently, the older models become obsolete in a short space of time, which makes leasing an affordable solution for small businesses, says Teh.

“By [leasing], you don’t have to be concerned about the stresses that can come with being responsible for a fully purchased device and the failures that more often than not come with it. With [leasing as an] option, you need not worry about being left behind on an old model. If your device malfunctions, there is a quick and convenient one-to-one swap offer available and you no longer have to be at risk of losing valuable work time or miss important deadlines,” he notes.

Teh says the majority of large corporations tend to lease their Apple devices because it eases the pressure on capital expenditure. That is why Secondlifeasia felt start-ups and small companies could benefit from such plans.

“This philosophy of leasing could be extended to the start-up community as capital and resources are scarce. Thus, it would make sense for the thousands of start-ups in Malaysia to lease rather than buy their laptops and MacBooks,” he says.

“Sadly, there aren’t any institutions or entities offering this service to start-ups. Thus, Secondlifeasia intends to fill this void with a financial or leasing partner.”

Under the leasing programme, companies are given a choice of upgrading to newer devices when their lease ends or renewing their lease for another 36 to 48 months.

Teh says the company saw an increase in the number of customers wanting to repair their iOS devices at the height of the coronavirus pandemic. “The demand for repairs of iPads, MacBooks and iPhones is high due to the salary cutbacks and economic downturn. Companies and consumers are keener to repair than to buy.”

Additionally, due to mandated social distancing and stay-at-home measures, there has been an increase in the usage of iPads, MacBooks and iMacs — which has also led to higher demand for repair services.

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