Why can't phones be repaired?

Why can’t phones be repaired?

There are two types of electronic devices nowadays – those we repair, and those we regard as disposable.

A mental checklist of personal possessions quickly identifies which might be serviced, and which would be discarded without thinking.

Cars? Take them to the garage and put them on a ramp. Watches? Generally worth repairing. Alarm clocks? Straight in the bin. DVD players? Landfill by Saturday.

Disposable heroes

Sadly, glitchy or faulty mobile phones are often sold for the price of a couple of cinema tickets, before an expensive new handset is acquired in its place.

Phone repairs might be impractical compared to throwing a faulty handset away, whether the issue relates to water damage, failed components or a malware attack.

There are several reasons for this illogical state of affairs:

  1. Design. When smartphones are moulded from a single piece of glass or metal, it’s hard to access internal components.

    Waterproofing tends to involve super-adhesive glue around joints and seams, making phones impervious to washing up bowls but impractical to re-seal once they’ve been opened.

  2. Manufacturer restrictions. Apple places obstacles like pentalobe screws in the path of anyone attempting to open an iPhone’s casing, and there are no phone repair guides online.

    The company doesn’t want consumers tinkering around inside its hardware, any more than it wants them straying beyond the Apple App Store’s walled garden.

  3. Ignorance. One American phone repair company claims 23 per cent of people will make do with a cracked screen even after cutting themselves on it.

    People often tolerate faulty smartphones because they think repairs are either unachievable or economically unviable.

  4. In-built obsolescence. Smartphone manufacturers make their profits from regular upgrades, and selling spare parts doesn’t generate as much revenue as selling a new device.

    Batteries may degrade after a few hundred charge cycles, and are usually non-replaceable. Without access to affordable spares, a new phone is the only solution to battery anxiety.

Right to repair?

Happily, change is on the horizon.

Consumer attitudes towards recycling are evolving rapidly, especially after Blue Planet II demonstrated the damage discarded plastic is doing to the natural world.

A ‘right to repair’ movement has gained traction in America, while the European Parliament has passed a motion calling on manufacturers to make products more repairable.

Surveys suggest most EU consumers would rather fix old goods than buy new ones, however detrimental that may be to manufacturer profit margins.

Public demand for longer product lifecycles might finally lead to modular components, hot-swap batteries and official repair manuals becoming commonplace.

(Some of these are central to the Fairphone 2 – currently the world’s most sustainable smartphone).

SIM-only customers will happily acknowledge that a device doesn’t become obsolete or unusable as soon as it’s paid off.

A well-maintained smartphone can last for several years – though it’d probably survive even longer if manufacturers supported (rather than opposed) phone repairs…

Back To Top