Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority
Samsung and Google announced last week that they would follow Apple’s lead with their own repair programs and sell smartphone components directly to end users. Even better, both companies have partnered with iFixit – a reputable source of repair guides and smartphone spare parts. 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 seem on the surface.
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Replacement, not repair: a faulty and costly strategy
Ease of access to key components of a device – especially failure prone like a charging port or battery – is one of the most important aspects of repairability. However, many modern electronic devices are not designed to be easily serviceable.
Key points: With the Galaxy S22 series – most Samsung smartphones ship with a display housing with a sticky battery. While this isn’t an unusual habit in itself, virtually every other smartphone maker includes a tug tab or two for easy removal.
Without the Tab tab, however, you need plenty of isopropyl alcohol to soften the adhesive to safely remove your smartphone’s battery. Lithium-ion batteries do not respond well to physical stress (think of the Galaxy Note 7 crash) so inadvertently removing the battery can be extremely dangerous.
Samsung sells replacement batteries combined with display assemblies, resulting in higher repair costs and additional e-waste.
Samsung probably realizes that it can’t expect all of its users to have a safe battery replacement. So what has the company decided to do? Do not sell replacement batteries as part of its self-repair program. Instead, you can buy a full display assembly with an adhesive-on battery. Needless to say, this greatly increases repair costs, especially in flagship models with high-performance displays. Many users want to buy a new device instead of paying hundreds of dollars to replace a fully functional screen.
It’s not just Samsung that makes devices with limited scope for repair. Each MacBook in recent memory has used rivets to secure the keyboard to the chassis below. Most other laptops use screws instead. In practice, replacing a MacBook keyboard is almost impossible – removing each individual rivet requires either an unreasonable amount of brute force (pictured above) or a careful hammer.
Replacing a MacBook keyboard takes so much time and effort that even Apple won’t. The company’s own repair policy is to replace the entire bottom half of the laptop, including a new trackpad and glue-on battery. If your MacBook’s warranty expires, replacing the top case could cost you hundreds of dollars, probably more than the price of the device. The same could be said of parts sold through an upcoming self-repair program.
Despite all the durability claims, the truth is that we are still deliberately working on anti-repair design choices.
Despite all the durability claims we’ve heard from manufacturers over the years, the fact is that we’re still deliberately working on anti-repair design choices. And as you might expect, the practice has expanded beyond the two examples listed here or even outside the company.
Read more: Should we tolerate hard-to-repair devices?
Serial hardware and software lock
Rita L. Khuri / Android Authority
Serialized hardware is another worrying trend that self-repair programs will probably not affect very much, if not more. In short, serialization refers to the practice of assembling displays, batteries, cameras, motherboards and other components from the factory. In many cases, only authorized repair centers have the ability to add new hardware to the devices, essentially preventing users from having to replace their own replacement parts.
The practice of serializing components severely limits who can and cannot repair a device.
Although user safety is often cited as a common cause of serialization, it is always a weak argument. Fortunately, public backlash has forced companies to disable software locks on a number of occasions, even as recently as last year. That said, manufacturers can easily restore them since the hardware already exists on every device.
While serialized hardware may not be like a big deal, keep in mind that many repairs involve the use of donor devices instead of brand-new replacement parts. After all, many discarded devices still have fully functional batteries, charge ports, and mainboards that can be recovered for future repairs. Such repairs can be cost-effective and environmentally friendly. However, this is clearly not possible if each component is locked to a specific device.
For a self-repair program, manufacturers need to disclose their proprietary pair of software to the general public. The Pixel 6 already has a system for calibrating the fingerprint sensor, but it hasn’t been working for months now. In addition, there is no impediment to other manufacturers imposing restrictions on allowing technically selected users to make repairs.
Google’s fingerprint sensor calibration tool for the Pixel 6 has been broken for months. Thus, access to replacement hardware alone does not guarantee a fix.
For example, access to software tools may be locked unless the customer proves that they have collected an additional portion from an authorized source. In fact, it is already happening now. According to iFixit, Apple-approved technologists use a cloud-based program to verify and sync the serial numbers of replacement devices with Apple servers.
It’s worth considering how contrived this practice is. If you need to have your car repaired, you don’t usually have to think about buying a “genuine” part, or you don’t usually have to use a proprietary software connected to the Internet to attach a new battery or a set of tires. Your vehicle. There is no reason why our personal electronics should not be subject to the same standards.
See also: Android phones should have a personal repair mode
Self-repair for some, but not for everyone
Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority
Even if you are willing to endure all of the obstacles mentioned above, none of the self-repair programs we’ve seen so far seem particularly comprehensive.
Apple’s program will include 200 parts of the iPhone 12 and 13 series. But what if you own an old device or an iPhone SE? Based on what we know so far, you won’t have access to parts until much later. The company has only made a vague promise to extend the reach of the program to Macs and other products, but no one knows when that will happen. And although almost six months have passed since the initial announcement, you still can’t buy anything.
Our opinion: Apple’s self-repair program sets the bar for Android OEM
Samsung’s program is somehow more limited. The company will initially only sell parts for the Galaxy S20, S21 and Tab S7 device family. This is not a very long list, especially since Samsung launches dozens of smartphones and tablets every year.
Google seems to be doing somewhat better than both companies in this regard, with parts and promises of support back in the Pixel 2 series from 2017. However, it’s not clear if that promise extends to mid-range devices like the Pixel 5a. .
It is not clear why these programs support so few devices and are only available in a few markets.
Availability is another potential concern. Google says it will make spare parts available in most western markets. Apple’s self-repair program, however, will initially only be launched in the United States. And although Samsung did not specify availability, its press release points to a similar focus in North America.
It is not clear why these programs support so few devices and are not available in more regions. While some will blame logistical constraints or supply constraints, manufacturers are already on hand to service existing devices in official repair centers around the world, not to assemble new devices. Also, iFixit already has a distribution channel for aftermarket spare parts and equipment, so it’s not something that brands have to build from scratch.
Related: Here’s why we’re looking at all these self-repairing phone services
Does the self-repair movement help the right to repair?
Eric Zeman / Android Authority
While what we’ve discussed so far points to a bleak future for the electronics repair industry, there may be a silver lining to this whole situation.
After years of indifference, technology giants have finally succumbed to the pressures of the right-to-repair movement. Regulators around the world are also considering legal intervention and could eventually force manufacturers to abandon anti-repair practices such as adhesive batteries. The European Parliament, for one, recently voted to ban non-replaceable battery packs. The move could force Samsung and other smartphone makers to eventually change the design of their products and take on real repairability.
What do you think of Google, Samsung and Apple’s self-repair programs?