Can this iPhone be repaired? Consumers are looking for the “right to repair”.

Here’s a test: How quickly can you replace your smartphone’s battery? If it’s a few seconds, you probably own a phone that’s several years old. If it’s a few minutes – or seems so complicated you’d never want to try it – you probably have a newer phone and a problem. Telephones, computers, medical equipment and even tractors are becoming so sophisticated that they are increasingly difficult to repair. This complexity has sparked backlash and concerns about growing amounts of e-waste. The Right to Repair movement is pushing lawmakers in 18 states to pass laws that would make electronics and machinery easier and cheaper to repair for consumers and independent repair shops. The push follows a similar initiative around cars five years ago. But farm equipment and smartphone makers are working to counter public pressure with their own plans, which could prove far more limited than right-to-repair advocates are advocating.

Why we wrote this

In a disposable culture of increasingly complex products – from smartphones to tractors – there is a battle between consumer freedom and manufacturer control over sensitive parts and technology.

Two miles from Apple’s sprawling campus in Cupertino, California, Cupertino iPhone Repair does a phenomenal business repairing iPhones and other Apple products.

His secret to success: he repairs electronic gadgets faster and more cheaply than Apple itself. It’s a challenge: the store can’t use any Apple parts and has to tell customers that if they fix their device, Apple will likely refuse to fix it, even under warranty.

“They don’t want to fix these phones,” says Lakshmi Agrawal, co-owner of Cupertino iPhone Repair. “They’re just trying to sell the new phones.”

Why we wrote this

In a disposable culture of increasingly complex products – from smartphones to tractors – there is a battle between consumer freedom and manufacturer control over sensitive parts and technology.

It’s not just smartphones. As computers, medical equipment, and even tractors become more computerized, manufacturers are making it increasingly difficult for customers to repair their products. Their restrictions have sparked a backlash among consumers, advocates and independent repair shops who insist they have the right to repair.

The standoff pits companies, concerned about protecting their proprietary software from hackers, against some of their customers, who want repairs to be cheaper and easier. The current system outright discourages repairs, they charge or make things so expensive that consumers buy new products and throw away old ones, exaggerating a growing e-waste problem.

“People say I’m anti-Apple. I’m not. I love my iPhone,” says Nathan Proctor, who leads the Right to Repair campaign for the US Public Interest Research Group (US PIRG), a Denver-based nonprofit advocacy organization. But “it’s my phone and no matter why they think I shouldn’t be able to fix it, I bought it, I own it and I just want it to keep working.”

So far this year, 18 states have considered right to repair bills, though none have passed into law. At the same time, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Farmers Union and the National Corn Growers Association are asking the US Copyright Office to renew its exemption that allows farmers to modify software to diagnose and repair their machines. Farmer groups also want to extend the exemption to independent repair shops.

They point to what happened to auto repair after a 2013 Massachusetts law that gave owners and independent shops access to the same diagnostic and repair data as dealerships and authorized repair centers. The following year, two industry trade groups agreed to take the Massachusetts model nationally and fully implement it by that year.

Under pressure, domestic farm equipment manufacturers and dealer organizations agreed in February to implement their own version of the right to repair by 2021. The practical scope of the agreement is not yet known. . The groups, for example, make a distinction between the right to repair and the right to modify software.

“Allowing untrained individuals to modify equipment software may endanger operators, bystanders, dealers, mechanics, customers and others,” wrote Ken Golden, spokesperson for Deere & Co. , in an email. “This software helps ensure that equipment complies with safety, emissions and other standards and regulations.”

Manufacturers of medical devices make the same argument. Untrained repairers could damage very sensitive and expensive machinery. That’s why they use numeric codes and passwords to lock this software. The software is protected by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which makes it a crime to hack or steal proprietary software.

But these same practices also create a closed loop where only the company and authorized dealers can repair machines.

This closed loop is often very profitable. According to one estimate, the medical equipment maintenance market is expected to reach $2.2 billion worldwide by 2020. And it leaves repairs in the hands of a few licensed shops, which pay the company for the privilege, or discourages repairs at all, sometimes denying access to parts or making them so expensive that repairs are uneconomical.

“It’s gotten harder to fix computers than when we started,” says Roger Jermyn, owner of Plug-n-Play PC, an independent repair shop in Waltham, Mass. “As computers have come down in price, it’s actually less likely that they’ll be repaired. Rather than paying $750 for a new part, customers are generally choosing to buy a new $1,000 machine.

Smartphones, however, are rising in price, with the latest Apple models topping $1,000. They can make consumers even more reluctant to update their phones frequently — and put more pressure on Apple to change its habits.

“We throw away 416,000 phones every day,” says US PIRG’s Proctor. “And a third of the world doesn’t have access to cell phones. We cannot be content with having a completely one-way “make-use-throw away” system, given limited planetary resources. [Editor’s note:  This paragraph was changed to correct the number of phones disposed of daily.]

The problem is not limited to Apple. Other smartphone manufacturers have also made their models more difficult to repair. The 2010-era Samsung Galaxy S5, for example, has a removable plastic back that allows access to change the battery and memory in seconds. Today’s S9, on the other hand, requires heating the metal back to loosen the adhesive, a suction cup to help remove it, the removal of 15 Phillips screws and two other parts before the battery can be removed.

These hard-to-remove lithium batteries in turn make it difficult and dangerous for recyclers to recover parts. As the Washington Post reported two weeks ago, these batteries are causing fires in trucks and recycling centers.

Apple, which has never taken a position on the right to repair, has responded to these issues by expanding its repair network to some 5,000 authorized service providers worldwide, reducing the cost of battery replacement and simplifying screen repair. He pioneered “Daisy,” a robotic disassembly system for iPhones to salvage more parts than traditional shredding methods, and launched a credit program for customers who return Apple computers when not in use. more.

Last year, the company announced its commitment to creating new products using only recycled or renewable materials. That commitment is still years away and, to the dismay of right-to-repair advocates, remains a closed loop entirely under Apple’s control.

Comments are closed.