As smartphones have gotten thinner, more complex, and added features like water resistance, there has been a noticeable drop in the ability to fix them at home.
Granted, that doesn’t seem like a bad thing, as you can take them to a store, pay a fee, and pick up a fully functional device. But, in many cases, the price of these repairs starts to rise, and exclusive parts see independent repairers struggling to fix devices, often leaving manufacturers as the only option.
Now the EU is preparing legislation that will support the ‘right to repair’ movement, which gives consumers more control over devices they have paid for huge sums of money.
We take a look at how this could have a huge impact on how Apple designs and builds the iPhone of the future.
What is the right to repair?
Go back a few years and if your iPhone or Android phone developed an issue there was a good chance you could probably get a replacement for the troublesome part of eBay and install it yourself, armed only with a basic toolkit.
These days you need heating pads to loosen the adhesive that holds the screen in place, a range of specialty screwdrivers, spudgers, pliers, plastic picks, tweezers to remove the screws and other fasteners, then the spare parts themselves. Even after all this, you might find that after performing the repair, the device will detect the non-original parts and refuse to work properly.
This was demonstrated recently in a video posted to YouTube, where repairman Hugh Jeffreys purchased two brand new iPhone 12s to test their repairability. While he was able to open and take them apart without much hassle (other than the display adhesive), his fears about repairability came true.
After swapping the motherboard between identical phones each developed identical issues that seemed to stem from compatibility, with cameras not fully functioning, battery health percentage not showing, True Tone, and Face ID turned off and the power button not operational unless plugged in. a power source.
These issues instantly disappeared when he replaced parts in their original devices, suggesting that Apple somehow linked or paired components with individual devices, making them potentially impossible to repair except by the ones. the company’s own technicians.
Apple isn’t the only company that seems to be making it difficult for owners to maintain their devices to last longer, as the entire industry is moving in that direction. Open up most modern smartphones or tablets and you will find components stuck in place or with special security features that make them difficult, if not impossible, to remove.
One of the biggest killers of smartphones these days is batteries, which are consumables that naturally lose capacity over a few years, causing devices to last less and less between charges.
In old models, you can replace the battery with a new one, but in modern devices it is much more difficult. The result is a perfectly good phone that is thrown into a raffle and replaced with a new one, simply because that consumable cannot be easily replaced.
This is not only a problem for disgruntled DIY enthusiasts, as the shorter lifespan of unrepairable electronics also takes a toll on the environment. According to the Right to Repair website, more than 53 million tonnes of electronic waste (electronic waste) are produced each year, making it the fastest growing form of waste in the world. The worst part is that it is estimated that only 15 to 20% end up being recycled, with the rest ending up in landfills.
To combat this, many believe devices should be easily repairable, without the prohibitive costs that encourage consumers to buy a new device instead. But this flies in the face of business strategies that could improve a company’s profits simply by pricing repairs at such a high level that they make no financial sense, while actively speeding up the upgrade cycle to customers.
The problem has become such that the EU is now considering putting in place laws that make it compulsory to repair new devices because they are built with removable and replaceable parts.
We’ve already seen legislation that will come into effect in 2021 that will cover televisions, various household appliances and lighting products, but it is now looking to be extended to cover smartphones, tablets and laptops.
Will Apple and others have to change their phones because of the repair fee?
Apple takes a modular approach to building it with the iPhone 12 (and previous models). The problem is being able to replace damaged parts with new ones without the phone becoming unusable in many ways.
So the battleground will necessarily be around how the legislation is drafted. If it states that third-party repairers are protected, then manufacturers will have to reduce some of the safety restrictions they have in place to prevent the use of unofficial parts, while some will also be reluctant to have to provide technical manuals. that allow anyone to maintain the devices.
We have already seen lobbying and politics in the European Parliament where this fight is taking place. In a vote in October 2020, Parliament decided to weaken proposals that required mandatory labeling of products to show repairability, protections against premature obsolescence designed into a product, and laws to promote sustainability. environmental with regard to the use of resources.
Some countries are more at the forefront, however, with France already committed to putting repairability scores on laptops, smartphones, televisions, washing machines and low mowers, from January 2021, while that Austria experiment with a half reduction in VAT on small repairs, although for the moment this is limited to bicycles, clothing and shoes.
If the initiative proves successful, it can spread to other elements, with technology being a prime candidate. The idea of tax breaks for repairs is a smart idea that could be adopted more widely in other countries as well.
Can you buy easily repairable smartphones?
The need for durable and repairable devices has also seen brilliant innovations with products like the Fairphone 3 and Fairphone 3+ offering a fully modular approach to the smartphone. So far, the latter is the only smartphone to receive a repairability score of 10 out of 10 from iFixit, the excellent site that shows you how to fix your devices.
Fairphone allows customers to purchase replacement parts from the website, upgrade to a newer camera, replace your battery and just about any other part of the phone, all in the knowledge that it will be easy to assemble and will not cost the earth.
Whether Samsung or Apple will ever follow Fairphone’s approach is doubtful, but the EU being a big market for smartphones, the proposed new laws could have a huge impact on how phones of the future are built and hopefully. , repaired.
In the meantime, if you want to help the environment and save some money in the process, here’s why you should consider buying a used smartphone.