Self-repair programs are not a right-to-repair victory


apple iphone right to repair with iphone and oneplus 9 pro with screwdriver set

Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority

Samsung and Google made headlines last week after announcing that they would follow Apple’s lead with their own self-repair programs and sell smartphone components directly to end users. Better yet, both companies have partnered with iFixit – a reputable source of repair manuals and spare parts for smartphones. While this may sound like a victory for the right-to-repair movement, the unfortunate reality is that these programs are not as user-centric as they appear on the surface.

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Replace, not repair: a flawed and expensive strategy

MacBook keyboard replacement repair

Easy access to a device’s key components — especially failure-prone parts like the charging port or battery — is one of the most important aspects of recoverability. However, many modern electronic devices are simply not designed to be easy to maintain.

Example: Most Samsung smartphones – including the Galaxy S22 series – come with batteries glued to the display case. While not an uncommon practice per se, pretty much every other smartphone manufacturer has a pull tab or two for easy removal.

However, without pull tabs, it is necessary to safely remove your smartphone battery and use large amounts of isopropyl alcohol to soften the adhesive. Lithium-ion batteries don’t respond well to physical stress (think back to the Galaxy Note 7 debacle), so careless prying can be extremely dangerous.

Samsung sells replacement batteries in combination with displays, which leads to higher repair costs and additional e-waste.

Samsung may realize that it cannot expect all its users to replace the battery safely. So what has the company decided to do? Do not sell replacement batteries as part of the self-repair program. Instead, you can buy a full display with a glued-on battery. Needless to say, this greatly drives up repair costs, especially on flagship models with high-end displays. Many users would rather buy a new device than pay hundreds of dollars to replace a perfectly functional screen.

Not only Samsung makes devices with limited repair options. Every MacBook in recent memory has used rivets to secure the keyboard to the lower chassis. Most other laptops use screws instead. In practice, replacing a MacBook keyboard is nearly impossible – it takes either unreasonable amounts of brute force (pictured above) or careful hammering to remove each individual rivet.

Replacing a MacBook’s keyboard takes so much time and effort that even Apple won’t do it. The company’s own repair policy is to simply replace the entire bottom half of the laptop, including a brand new trackpad and glued-on battery. If your MacBook is out of warranty, replacing the top case could cost you hundreds of dollars, maybe even more than the device is worth. The same will likely be true for parts sold through the upcoming self-repair program.

Despite all the sustainability claims, the fact is that we are still dealing with conscious anti-repair design choices.

Despite all the durability claims we’ve heard from manufacturers over the years, the fact is, we’re still dealing with deliberate design choices against repair. And as you might expect, the practice goes way beyond the two examples or even companies listed here.

Read more: Should we tolerate hard-to-repair devices?

Serialized hardware and software locks

Google Pixel 6 Pro fingerprint sensor with light fade

Rita El Khoury / Android Authority

Serialized hardware is another worrying trend that self-healing programs are unlikely to affect, if at all. In a nutshell, serialization refers to the practice of linking screens, batteries, cameras, motherboards and other components from the factory. In many cases, only authorized repair centers have the ability to attach new hardware to devices, effectively preventing users from swapping out their own replacement parts.

The practice of serializing components severely limits who can and cannot repair a device.

While user security is often cited as a common reason for serialization, it has always been a rather weak argument. Fortunately, public backlash has forced companies to disable software lockouts on several occasions, even as recently as last year. That said, manufacturers should be able to restore them just as easily as the hardware is already in every device.

While serialized hardware may not sound like a big deal, keep in mind that many repairs use donor devices rather than brand new replacement parts. After all, many discarded devices still have perfectly functioning batteries, charging ports and motherboards that can be salvaged for future repairs. This type of repair can be both cost effective and environmentally friendly. However, it is of course not possible if every part is locked to a specific device.

A self-repair program requires manufacturers to release their proprietary clutch software to the general public. The Pixel 6 already has such a fingerprint sensor calibration system, but it hasn’t worked for months at this point. In addition, it does not prevent other manufacturers from imposing restrictions, while technically it allows a limited number of users to carry out repairs.

Google’s fingerprint sensor calibration tool for the Pixel 6 has been broken for months. Access to replacement hardware alone therefore does not guarantee a solution.

For example, access to the software tool may be blocked unless the customer proves that he has purchased a spare part from an approved source. In fact, this is already happening. According to iFixit, Apple-authorized technicians use a cloud-based program to verify and synchronize serial numbers of replacement parts with Apple servers.

It’s worth considering how contrived this practice is. If your car needs repair, you usually don’t have to think about buying an “original” part, nor do you usually need to use your own piece of software connected to the internet to get a new battery or set of tires. link to your vehicle. There’s absolutely no reason we shouldn’t hold our personal electronics to the same standard.

See Also: Android Phones Must Have Private Repair Mode

Self-repair for some, but not for everyone

apple iphone right to repair overview recording iphone and tools

Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority

Even if you’re willing to take all of the above hurdles, none of the self-healing programs we’ve seen so far seem particularly comprehensive.

Apple’s program includes 200 items for the iPhone 12 and 13 series. But what if you own an older device or the iPhone SE? Based on what we know so far, you won’t be able to access parts until much later. The company has made only a vague commitment to extend the program’s reach to the Mac and other products, but it’s anyone’s guess when that will happen. And even though it’s been almost six months since the first announcement, you still can’t buy anything.

Our take: Apple’s self-repair program raises the bar for Android OEMs

Samsung’s program is somehow even more restrictive. The company will initially only sell parts for the Galaxy S20, S21 and Tab S7 device families. That’s not a very long list, especially since Samsung releases dozens of smartphones and tablets every year.

Google seems to be doing slightly better than both companies in this regard, promising to offer parts and support that will return to the Pixel 2 series starting in 2017. However, it’s unclear if that commitment extends to mid-range devices like the Pixel 5a.

It’s unclear why these programs support so few devices and are only available in a few markets.

Availability is another potential concern. Google has stated that it will make spare parts available in most western markets. However, Apple’s self-repair program will initially only launch in the US. And while Samsung hasn’t specified availability, the press release also hints at a similar North American focus.

It is unclear why these programs support so few devices and are not available in more regions. While some blame logistical hurdles or supply constraints, manufacturers already have parts on hand to not only assemble new devices, but also service existing ones at official repair centers around the world. Plus, iFixit already has a distribution channel for aftermarket spare parts and tools, so it’s not something brands have to create from scratch.

Related: Here’s Why We’re Seeing All These Self-Healing Phone Services

Does self-repair help the right to repair of movement?

Removable battery close-up

Eric Zeman / Android Authority

While everything we’ve discussed so far points to a difficult future for the electronics repair industry, this whole situation could be a bright spot.

After years of apathy, tech giants have finally succumbed to the pressures of the right-to-repair movement. Regulators around the world are also considering legal action and could force manufacturers to abandon anti-repair practices such as glued-on batteries. For example, the European Parliament recently voted to ban non-replaceable batteries. The move could force Samsung and other smartphone makers to finally change their product designs and embrace true repairability.

What do you think of the self-healing programs from Google, Samsung and Apple?

7 votes

They are useless – most devices are designed to be anti-repair.

71%

They are too limited for now – not enough parts, phones or countries supported.

14%

They are a good first step, but we need more.

0%

They are exactly what I’ve wanted for years.

14%

I’m never going to fix my own stuff. Technicians know better.

0%

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