When I called iFixit CEO Kyle Wiens, I thought he would be celebrating, after years of fighting for the right to repair, renowned companies like Google and Samsung have suddenly agreed to provide replacement parts for their phones. Not only that, they signed agreements with to the to sell those parts through iFixit, along with the company’s repair guides and tools. valve too.
But Wiens says he’s not done making deals yet. “More are coming,” he says, one in a couple of months. (No, it’s not Apple). Motorola was actually the first to sign up almost four years ago. And if Apple joins them in a significant way in offering replacement parts to consumers, as promised to do in early 2022 — the era of fixing your own phone may well have arrived.
Last October, the United States effectively made it legal to open many devices for the purpose of repairing them with an exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Now, the necessary parts are arriving.
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? Of course. But some legislation is passing anyway… and one French law in particular may have been the turning point.
“What’s changing the game more than anything else is the French repairability score,” Wiens says, referring to a 2021 law that requires tech companies to disclose how repairable their phones are, on a scale of 0.0 to 10.0, right next to its price tag. Even Apple was forced to add repairability scores — but Wiens points to me this Samsung press release instead. When Samsung commissioned a study to see if the French repairability scores were meaningful, it not only found that the scorecards were useful, it found an astonishing 80 percent of those surveyed would be willing to give up their favorite brand for a product with a higher rating.
“Extensive studies have been done on the scorecard and it’s working,” says Wiens. “It’s driving behavior, it’s changing consumer buying patterns.”
Palo, meet the carrot. Seeing an opportunity, Wiens suggests, he pushed these companies to take iFixit in 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 for thanks. “It feels cheeky to say 100 percent…but none of this happens unless there is a threat of legislation.”
“These companies have known these were problems for a long time, and until we marshalled enough clout that it started to seem inevitable, none of the big ones had particularly good repair programs and now everyone is advertising them,” Proctor says. I am struck by the fact the European Parliament just voted 509-3 in favor of asking the EU to force manufacturers to make more repairable devices.
“I think there’s more and more awareness and resignation that phones are going to last longer and there’s nothing they can do about it,” says Wiens.
Google might also have a financial incentive, Proctor admits. “Google is a huge, huge company, but their Pixel phone sales aren’t a huge part of the market, right? Part of the carrot is that they can do something about a very popular antitrust and antitrust issue in an area where they’re not the dominant player.”
What about the practical reasons tech companies have obstructed the right to repair in the past, concerns about consumers accidentally puncturing their batteries or breaking their phones, and forcing companies like Google or Samsung to handle more support calls? Wiens says they are a bit exaggerated. But he also says that’s why these companies chose iFixit, because their website offers specially designed repair guides and tools that make people less likely to make mistakes.
Samsung, Google, and even Valve aren’t necessarily opening the floodgates for all sorts of fixes, mind you. Wiens says that iFixit won’t sell any boards with chips, so if your Pixel exhibits the kind of notorious bootloop issue that plagued many Nexus phones, you’ll still need Google to fix it. “[Boards are] definitely something to consider, but there are supply chain challenges around making it,” he says.
Importantly, the most common parts should be included in iFixit’s new parts caches, such as official screens and batteries, and iFixit says it’s committed to supporting phones even if it has to stock “last chance” components when the factories stop making them. While it’s hard to predict how many of those components they’ll need, manufacturers are helping to share data with iFixit, like how many phones they’ve sold.
Wiens says that iFixit already has hundreds of thousands of parts in an external warehouse and is currently expanding as a result of these deals. Wiens won’t say whether the tech companies are subsidizing the parts or how much he’ll pay, but iFixit says he has to buy them and will sell them at a markup.
While you don’t necessarily need officially authorized parts for every type of repair, it sounds like there could be some advantages: iFixit’s repair kits will come with the same kind of pre-cut waterproofing gaskets that Google and Samsung use to properly reseal. their own phones. “As long as you do it right, get the full seal, then you’ll be fine again,” says Wiens.
He says it’s something people should probably do once or twice a year, since the adhesive manufacturers use to waterproof their devices 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’s still working in the shower,” he adds.
Regardless of whether these companies are being pushed or led, the result could be the same: an era where your good-enough old phone can stay good-enough for much longer than it might otherwise. politicians, governments, regulators, shareholdersand advocacy groups like US PIRG are putting pressureand it can also open up opportunities.
“If the market changed and people stayed with phones much longer…eventually companies would change and find a way to make more money in that environment, right?” says Proctor, suggesting that a phone that lasts might be another way to keep customers sticking around. “I’m just encouraged that those incentives are now a little bit more aligned with what’s best for people on the planet.”
I hope that tech companies continue to resist the right to remedy in some way, even while pretending to accept it. (We’ve seen that from Apple before.and Apple did not respond to a request for comment this week about its Self-Service Repair Program). seems to be going backwards in that
And of course, they’ll keep enticing you to quickly upgrade to new phones, like how carriers brought back the subsidy model last year to stimulate sales while society was still stuck at home, and how Apple is reportedly looking sell the iPhone as a subscription service now.
But it seems that when my iPhone mini battery expires and no new mini to replace it, I will be able to change the battery myself. If not? I could take a hint and switch to a newly repairable Pixel.