Repairing a smartphone at home is now easier than ever. However, the battle for the right to repair is far from over.
In recent months, three of the largest smartphone makers — Apple, Google, and Samsung — have made it easier for consumers who wish to repair their own handset at home, at least in the United States. They now allow the purchase of original parts, which were previously restricted to approved repairers. They also provide manuals that explain how to repair your phone’s screen or battery, for example.
This shift in course marks the beginning of a victory for those who advocate for the right to repair, which aims to minimize overconsumption and combat technological gadget obsolescence.
However, the advantages are only partial in all three circumstances. Here’s why.
Only for Americans
Both Apple (which started its own microsite in April) and Samsung (which launched its relationship with electronics repair startup iFixit in early August) only sell their parts in the United States. instant.
The manuals can be viewed in Canada, but the parts must be found elsewhere on the net, and their authenticity cannot be assured. For example, you may receive a replacement screen whose glass is less solid than that of an original part.
Apple intends to expand its program later this year, and Canada should be among the nations from which parts can be acquired, while Samsung has yet to make such an announcement.
Google is an exception in this regard. Since May, the company has been selling its parts on the Canadian edition of the iFixit website.
Parts are often expensive.
Making a repair at home does not mean that we will receive a fortune.
If $43 on iFixit is a reasonable price for replacing the battery of a Google Pixel 3 (and maybe giving it a second life), $347 for an Apple iPhone 13 Pro screen is merely a saving. Minimal in comparison to in-store repairs ($365), especially if you already have all the necessary tools and are conducting the work yourself.
The tools are not given.
Samsung’s and Google’s tutorials were designed to require a minimal set of tools, which are available for a low cost (about $10) on iFixit.
This is not the case with Apple. To remove a screen by following its guidelines, a special tool costing over $300 must be purchased or rented for roughly $65. The user is then given two boxes of equipment totaling more than 35 pounds.
When you add up the cost of tools and components, the process is rarely cheaper than shop repairs.
The number of available parts is still restricted.
At the moment, few parts are available to the general public: those meant for aging devices are scarce, and some are simply too expensive to sell individually.
Apple, for example, only includes iPhones of the 12, 13, and SE series in the program. However, various replacements are available, including the battery, main speaker, camera, screen, SIM card holder, and Taptic Engine, which allows the screen to vibrate.
Google is doing better in this area also, with parts for all of its phones released since 2017. (since the Pixel 2 more precisely). However, repairs are primarily confined to the battery, camera, and screen.
Samsung, on the other hand, only enables repairs on phones in the Galaxy S20 and Galaxy S21 lines. The charging port, the glass on the rear of the case, the screen, and the battery can then be replaced (these two parts must be replaced at the same time).
We’ll have to wait and see whether things become better as new models are introduced and parts of the older ones are still usable.
In the design of phones, repair comes next.
The battery and the screen are two of the most often replaced components. However, the maneuver is not simple. The iFixit tutorial for replacing them on the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra has 82 steps. Even with specialist tools, replacing the screen on the Apple iPhone 13 Pro requires 61 steps.
Moreover, certain parts cannot be dismantled, needing the replacement of several parts at the same time (it is for this reason that the repair of the memory of an iPhone X in the shop costs 719 dollars, for example).
The issue is the same in either case: repairability is often considered secondary in the design of electronic gadgets (there are exceptions, such as the Fairphone, which is however not available in Canada).
Making it easy to repair phones at home is a start in the right direction, but the measure’s tangible impact will be limited unless they are intended to last longer.