Most manufacturers prevent users from repairing their devices or even changing the battery. Smartphones could function perfectly for many more years if the battery were replaceable and the memory upgradable. However, big names such as Apple and Samsung are making huge profits selling their flagship smartphones locked out of hardware upgrades.
Several American States and the European Parliament are working on new laws that will require vendors of consumer electronic devices — such as smartphones, tablets, laptops, and wearables — to allow users (and rightful owners) to take them to any repair shop and continue to use them.
All these new regulations are designed to fight the “programmed obsolescence” of many popular brands, which force consumers to replace smartphones, and other computing devices, every two to three years. Just in 2017 smartphone vendors shipped a total of 1,472 million units, about 26% of the world’s adult population (15+) .
A proposed law drafted by the state of Washington legislature goes further. It mandates replaceable batteries in all consumer electronic devices sold in the state. Jeff Morris, the representative who introduced the bill, says it had nothing to do with Apple throttling iPhones with weak batteries. “It was introduced before news broke, but that’s become something constituents and legislators have sunk their teeth into,” Morris told Motherboard.
The bill states in Section 3 (6):
Original manufacturers of digital electronic products sold on or after January 1, 2019, in Washington state are prohibited from designing or manufacturing digital electronic products in such a way as to prevent reasonable diagnostic or repair functions by an independent repair provider. Preventing reasonable diagnostic or repair functions includes permanently affixing a battery in a manner that makes it difficult or impossible to remove.
The Washington State law is the last of a wave of new bills introduced by several legislatures. In 2017, 12 states introduced similar bills that require consumer electronics vendors to disclose repair information to consumers and third-party repair shops, and make spare parts available to them.
In several European countries, most notably in France and Germany, device vendors are now required to provide original spare parts to repair a device for up to five years from its launch. Two years ago, people from iFixit, the fix everything website, ran a workshop with European Parliament MPs to show them how to fix their phones, in an effort to encourage legislation to help people keep using their devices longer.
The European Parliament, in their June 9, 2017 resolution, which was approved by 662 votes to 32, wants to “[promote] repair over replacement, particularly in the context of the legal guarantee. [Repair] is also an environmental issue because systematic replacement involves the disposal of equipment that is still new and does not encourage manufacturers to design products that are more robust.”
The EU is asking for vendors to disclose changes of new software that can make devices slower and, especially, to allow users to roll back to previous versions if they desire to do so. The resolution requires “essential software updates to be reversible and accompanied by information on the consequences for the operation of the device and for new essential software to be compatible with the previous-generation software.”
Apple is the biggest offender on software updates. The company serves over-the-air programming (OTA) updates of iOS to most iPhone models, wanted or not, and there is no easy way to roll-back to the previous version.
The European resolution also calls for replaceable batteries: “encouraging manufacturers to develop battery technology to ensure that the lifespan of the batteries and accumulators better matches the expected lifespan of the product or, alternatively, to make battery replacement more accessible at a price that is proportionate to the price of the product.”
While many of these regulations are not final, the trend is clear, and laws to avoid unnecessary electronic waste are coming. Addressing the right to repair, and the possibility to easily replace batteries, will have a significant impact on manufacturing and the supply chain. Vendors will be required to allow consumers to use their devices longer and to supply them and repair shops with components to fix them.