If Apple and other tech companies are successful, it will only be more difficult to get our phones and other devices fixed by third party companies.
Smartphones and many other technological devices are increasingly designed in such a way that it is difficult to repair or replace individual components.
This can involve soldering the processor and flash memory to the motherboard, gluing components together unnecessarily, or using non-standard pentalobe screws which make replacements problematic.
Numerous submissions to an Australian “right to repair” inquiry called on technology makers to provide a fair and competitive market for repairs and to make products that are easily repairable.
The right of repair refers to the ability of consumers to have their products repaired at a competitive price. This includes the ability to choose a repairer, rather than having to default to using the device manufacturer’s services.
But it seems Apple doesn’t want its customers to repair their iPhones or Macbooks on their own. The company lobbied against the right to repair in the United States and has been accused of deliberately slowing iPhones with older batteries.
One can expect opposition to the right to repair from tech companies. Encouraging consumers to use their service centers increases their income and extends their market dominance.
In its defense, Apple said third-party repairers could use substandard parts and make devices vulnerable to hackers.
It also defended its battery warning indication as a “safety” feature, in which it began to alert users if their phone’s replacement battery was not from a certified Apple repairer.
In the United States, Apple’s Independent Repair Provider Program grants certain suppliers access to the parts and resources needed to repair their devices. Independent repair shops in 32 countries can now apply, but the program has yet to expand outside of the United States.
[Read: How do you build a pet-friendly gadget? We asked experts and animal owners]
Impact on users
With the iPhone 12 – the latest iPhone offering – Apple has made it even more difficult for third-party repairers to repair the device, increasing users’ reliance on its own services.
Apple has increased its repair costs for the iPhone 12 by over 40%, compared to the iPhone 11. It charges over A $ 359 to repair an out-of-warranty iPhone 12 screen and A $ 109 to replace the battery.
Historically, third-party repairers have been a cheaper option. But using a third-party repairer for an iPhone 12 could make some phone features, such as the camera, almost inoperable.
According to reports, repairing the iPhone 12 camera requires Apple’s proprietary system setup application, which is only available to authorized company technicians.
It’s not just Apple either. Samsung’s flagship phones are also quite difficult for third-party repairers to repair.
When some parts for repairs are not available, manufacturers instead produce new phones, consuming more power and resources. In fact, building a smartphone consumes as much energy as using it for ten years.
As smartphones become more difficult to repair, electronic waste will increase. Apple and Samsung both cited environmental benefits when they announced they would no longer ship chargers with their phones.
Yet they turned a blind eye to the environmental damage that would result from the complete monopoly of the repair market.
The average Australian home has 6.7 devices, including TVs, personal computers, laptops, tablets, and smartphones. As repair options decrease, the environmental burden of disposing of these devices will increase.
What do we do?
Phone giants are preventing third-party repairers from doing their jobs in a number of ways. This includes constantly evolving designs, adding barriers to the repair process, and restricting access to parts, diagnostic software, and repair documentation.
Meanwhile, consumers are left with broken phones and huge repair bills – and repairers are left with less business.
The fight to remove barriers to redress is also gaining momentum outside of Australia, in countries like Canada, the UK and the US. Legislative reforms have been introduced in the European Union and in Massachusetts.
France has introduced a repairability index requiring manufacturers of electrical and electronic equipment to inform consumers about the repairability of their products on a scale of one to ten.
This takes into account the ease of repair, the availability and price of spare parts, as well as the availability of technical repair documents.
The path that advances
Until demand for legislative reform of the right to repair accelerates globally, consumers will have no choice but to pay large companies to access their authorized repair services.
If they don’t, they risk losing their warranty, ending up with a non-working device, and even violating the copyright of manufacturers’ software.
Ideally, telephone companies (and others) would assist users in the repair process by providing spare parts, repair documents, and diagnostic tools to third-party repairers.
It would also help Apple and Samsung reduce their carbon footprint and meet their environmental goals.
While things are changing, tech companies are unlikely to be able to escape their self-inflicted repair obligations. In the past, Apple CEO Jeff Williams has said:
We believe that the safest and most reliable repair is that performed by a qualified technician using genuine parts that have been properly designed and rigorously tested.
But with only so much manpower available, even for Apple, sharing the load with small repairers will help.
And for the benefit of consumers, right to repair legislation needs to be taken seriously, with consistent repairability scores developed across the world.
This article by Ritesh Chugh, Senior Lecturer – Information Systems and Analysis, CQUniversity Australia is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.