In recent months, three of the biggest smartphone manufacturers – Apple, Google and Samsung – have made it easier for those who want to repair their own device at home, at least in the US. They now allow the purchase of original parts, something that was once reserved for authorized repairers. And they offer guides that explain, for example, how to replace the screen or battery on your phone.
This change of course represents the start of a victory for those defending the right to repair, which aims to reduce overuse and prevent the obsolescence of electronic gadgets.
In all three cases, however, the gains are only partial. Here’s why.
Reserved for Americans
Both Apple (which launched its own microsite in April) and Samsung (through a partnership with electronics repair company iFixit that went live in early August) only offer their parts for sale in the US.
The guides can be seen in Canada, but you have to find the parts elsewhere on the web, so their provenance is not guaranteed. For example, you may receive a replacement screen whose glass will be less solid than an original part.
Apple plans to expand its program later this year, and Canada should be on the list of countries where parts can be purchased, but Samsung has yet to issue such an announcement.
Google is the exception here. The company has been selling its parts since May on the Canadian version of the iFixit site.
The price of parts is often high
Carrying out a repair at home does not mean that a windfall awaits us.
If $43 on iFixit is a good price to replace the battery in a Google Pixel 3 (and thus potentially give it a new lease of life), shelling out $347 for an Apple iPhone 13 Pro screen is just a savings. minimal compared to shop repairs ($365) even if you already have all the necessary tools and you’re the one doing the work.
Not given, the tools
Samsung’s and Google’s guides were designed to require a minimum of tools, which are offered cheaply (around $10) on iFixit.
However, this is not the case with Apple. If one wants to remove a screen by following its guides, a special tool over $300 must be purchased or rented for about $65. Two boxes of equipment weighing more than 35 kilos in total are then delivered to the user.
If you add the cost of tools and parts together, the process is rarely advantageous over in-store repairs.
The range of parts is still limited
Few parts are currently offered to the public: those intended for aging devices are rare, and some are outright too expensive to sell individually.
At Apple, for example, only iPhones of the 12, 13 and SE series are included in the program. But more replacements are possible, such as the battery, the main speaker, the camera, the screen, the SIM card holder and the Taptic Engine that makes the screen vibrate.
Here too, Google does a little better, with parts for all its phones launched since 2017 (since the Pixel 2 to be precise). However, repairs are largely limited to the battery, camera and screen.
Samsung, for its part, only allows repairs for phones in the Galaxy S20 and Galaxy S21 series. You can then change the charging port, the glass on the back of the case or the screen and the battery (these two parts must be replaced at the same time).
It remains to be seen whether the situation will improve over time as new models are launched and parts of the previous ones remain available.
Repair is secondary in the design of phones
The battery and screen are two of the most frequently replaced parts. However, the maneuver is not easy. The iFixit guide to replacing them on the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra includes 82 different steps. Even with specialized tools, replacing the screen on the Apple iPhone 13 Pro has 61 steps.
In addition, several parts cannot be disassembled, which requires 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 store costs, for example, 719 dollars).
In either case, the problem is the same: repairability is generally secondary in the design of electronic devices (there are exceptions, such as the Fairphone, which, however, is not available in Canada).
Making it easier to repair phones at home is a step in the right direction, but until they are designed to extend their life in this way, the concrete impact of the move will be limited.