Europe wants to make mobile devices more durable

Say goodbye to planned obsolescence! The European Commission is working on a bill to make mobile devices more durable, extend the time it takes to track updates and make repairs easier.

Electronic devices have a significant impact on the environment. A study ofThe Danish Environment and Energy Agency (Breath) and the supervisory authority for electronic communications (Arcep) revealed that screens – televisions, tablets, smartphones, etc. – represent 2.5% of the carbon footprint in France. Therefore, it is important to make their design more sustainable, to avoid premature and unnecessary renewal of equipment that is still functional. It is the famous programmed obsolescence that generates the multiplication of electronic waste – and thus pollution.

The European Commission tackles this problem in recognition that smartphones and tablets “often replaced prematurely by users” and is not “not sufficiently used or recycled.” A situation that has a cost in the form of resource consumption and waste. The European Commission estimates that extending the life of these devices from 2-3 years to 5 years would mean up to 5 million cars out of circulation – transport is one of the main causes of pollution – as the Financial Times reports. A decision that is part of the EU’s overall project to achieve a circular economy by 2050 – that is, avoid extracting scarce resources to produce products that become waste, but rather transform these latter to produce a new generation of products.

A software update extended to 5 years

First, Europe wants to establish a minimum duration for software updates. After a while, the manufacturer actually stops updating the operating system (OS) or security patches. – some applications become incompatible and security vulnerabilities are no longer patched, exposing you to risks. A situation that is seen as an incentive to change flights well before its expiry. The policy on the updates provided depends on the manufacturers (see our handy sheet of the best smartphone brands on this topic) and the models, and while most have made efforts in recent years, the European Commission does not consider them sufficient . For an Android device, she will go for three years of major updates (Android 13, 14…) and five years of security fixes. All must be deployed within two to four months of release.

A policy already partly used by Apple and Samsung – which offers four years of Android updates and five years of security for its Galaxy smartphones (Z, S and Tab), and four years of Android and security for its other models. With the launch of the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro, Google increased the duration of security fixes to five years. On the other hand, for other manufacturers, it varies enormously from model to model, especially for entry-level smartphones, which are penalized – with an average of about two Android updates and three security updates.

Easily replaceable parts

The EU Commission also wants smartphone manufacturers and sellers to provide spare parts and repair services to make smartphones last longer, by simply replacing the faulty part rather than replacing the entire device – thus reducing waste. That is why they will have to make these parts – battery, camera, screen, button, microphone, speaker, hinge – and services available for at least five years after the date the smartphone is withdrawn from the market.

As for the battery, they must either be removable – as was the case before – or retain at least 83% of their rated capacity after 500 charge cycles and 80% after 1,000 cycles. And there is still work to be done to get there! On its support, Apple explains that a “normal” battery is designed to retain up to 80% of its original capacity after 500 complete charge cycles – but it offers to replace it for a fee. On the Android side, it depends on the manufacturer. For Oppo/OnePlus, the battery in some of its models, such as the Find X5 Pro, Reno 8 or OnePlus 10T, retain at least 80% of their capacity after 1,600 charge cycles – around 4 years of use. This desire follows the EU’s decision to introduce USB-C connectivity on all devices by 2024 – a restriction that could easily apply to the rest of the world, as manufacturers will not build a model specifically for Europe, which is an important market.

Measures that really raise objections

This bill is still at the beginning of its development, especially since it remains the subject of discussions – some states, such as Germany, want to impose seven years of updates – and it will take time before the vote and then its application takes place. It is mainly aimed at entry-level and mid-range smartphones, which do not get the same attention as premium models – at the same time, it is better to think twice before shelling out 1,800 euros. Nevertheless, some are skeptical about the application and consequences of such measures. On the one hand, this risks increasing the cost of the units, as it will be necessary to make investments – investments that will therefore affect the final price of the units. Second, this field changes very quickly, and some features introduced by new operating system updates may not work on older products. Ditto on the side of the computing capacity of old mobile processors, which could create slowdowns or impossibility to operate. A bill that needs to be refined and detailed.

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