The age of fixing your own phone is almost here

When I called iFixit CEO Kyle Wiens, I thought he’d celebrate — after years of fighting for the right to repair. big companies like Google and Samsung suddenly agreed to provide spare parts for their phones. Not only that, they have signed agreements with his to sell these parts through iFixit, alongside the company’s repair guides and tools. Valve too.

But Wiens says he’s not done making any deals yet. “There are more to come,” he says, one as soon as a few months from now. (No, it’s not Apple.) Motorola was the first to sign on nearly four years ago. And if Apple joins them in a meaningful way in offering replacement parts to consumers…as it promised to do by early 2022 – the era of fix your own phone may be upon us. . Last October, the United States effectively made it legal to open many devices for repair with an exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Now the necessary parts arrive.

What changed? Weren’t these companies fighting tooth and nail to keep the right to repair off the table, sometimes sneakily stopping bills at the last minute? Safe. But a law is being passed anyway…and one French law in particular could have been the tipping point.

“What’s game-changing more than anything else is the French repairability dashboard,” says Wiens, referring to a 2021 law that requires tech companies to reveal how repairable their phones are. – on a scale of 1.0 to 10.0 – right next to their price. Even Apple was forced to add repairability scores – but Wiens is sending me this press release from Samsung instead. When Samsung commissioned a study to test whether French repairability scores were meaningful, it didn’t just find scorecards to be handy — it found an astounding 80% of respondents would give up their favorite brand for a product that scores higher.

The repairability score is visible at the bottom right of the product page.

“There have been extensive studies on the dashboard and it works,” says Wiens. “It’s the driving behavior, it changes the buying habits of consumers. »

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Stick, meet carrot. Seeing an opportunity, suggests Wiens, pushed these companies to adopt iFixit on the deal.

Nathan Proctor, director of the Right to Repair Campaign at the US Public Interest Research Group (US PIRG), still thinks the stick is mostly to thank. “It’s cheeky to say 100%…but none of this is happening unless there’s a threat of legislation.”

“These companies knew these were problems for a long time, and until we organized enough influence that it started to seem inevitable, none of the big companies had particularly good repair programs and now they herald them all,” notes Proctor. He draws my attention to the fact that the European Parliament has just voted 509 to 3 in favor of asking the EU to force manufacturers to make devices more repairable.

“I think there’s a growing realization and resignation that phones are going to last longer and there’s nothing they can do about it,” Wiens said.

Google might also have a financial incentive, Proctor admits. “Google is a huge company, but their Pixel phone sales aren’t a big chunk of the market, are they? Part of the carrot is that they can do something about a really popular antitrust and antimonopoly issue in an area where they’re not the dominant player.

What about the practical reasons why tech companies have blocked right to repair in the past, concerns about consumers accidentally puncturing their batteries or breaking their phones, and forcing Google or Samsung to deal with more support calls? Wiens says they’re a bit over the top. But he also claims that’s why these companies chose iFixit, because its website provides specially designed repair guides and tools that make people less likely to crash.

Samsung, Google, and even Valve aren’t necessarily opening the floodgates to all types of repairs, mind you. Wiens says iFixit won’t sell any cards with chips, so if your Pixel germinates the kind of notorious bootloop issue that’s plagued many Nexus phones, you’ll still need Google to fix it. “[Boards are] DefThere is something to look at, but there are challenges for the supply chain,” he says.

Screen Shot 2022 04 08 at 9.26.40 AM

Google Pixels alongside iFixit tools.
Image: iFixit

It’s important to note that the most common parts should indeed be included in iFixit’s new parts caches, such as official screens and batteries, and iFixit says it’s committed to supporting phones even whether to stockpile “last chance” components when factories stop making them. While it’s hard to predict how many of these components they’ll need, manufacturers are helping some by sharing data with iFixit, such as how many phones they’ve sold.

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Wiens says iFixit already has hundreds of thousands of parts in an offsite warehouse and is currently expanding as a result of these agreements. Wiens won’t say if tech companies subsidize the parts or how much you’ll pay, but iFixit says it has to buy them and will sell them at a markup.

While you don’t necessarily need officially approved parts for every type of repair, it looks like there could be benefits: iFixit’s repair kits will come with the same type of pre-cut gaskets as Google and Samsung use to properly close their own phones. “As long as you do it right, get the seal all around, then you’re good again,” says Wiens.

He says it’s something more people should probably do once a year or two anyway — since the adhesive manufacturers use to waterproof their gadgets tends to wear off over time. “You do your first test in the shower and you’re happy with it, that doesn’t mean three months later it’ll still work in the shower,” he adds.

Whether these companies are pushed or led, the result could be the same: an era where your aging phone can stay pretty good for much longer than it otherwise could. Politicians Governments, Regulators, Shareholders, and advocacy groups like US PIRG are putting the pressure on, and this can also open up opportunities.

“If the market changed and people kept phones much longer… Eventually companies would change and find a way to make more money in this environment, right? says Proctor, suggesting that a phone that lasts could be another way to get customers to stick around. “I’m just heartened that these incentives are now a little more aligned with what’s best for people on the planet. »

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I expect tech companies to continue to resist the right to repair in some way, even pretending to embrace it. (We’ve seen this from Apple before, and Apple didn’t respond to a request for comment this week about its self-service repair program.) There are plenty of ways for companies to get in on it. air, like charging too much for parts or throwing out scary warnings — to its credit, Apple seems to be backing off on that one.

And of course, they’ll keep urging you to move quickly to new phones, like how carriers brought back the subsidy model last year to boost sales while the company was still stuck at home, and how Apple would seek to sell the iPhone as a subscription service now.

But it looks like when my iPhone mini’s battery expires and there’s no new mini to replace it, I’ll be able to swap out the battery myself. And if not? I could take a hint and upgrade to a newly serviceable Pixel.



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