Non-DIY Friendly

Mobile devices are now sealed up to such as extent that even a battery replacement requires an expensive technician. If you do it on your own, you immediately lose all warranty claims

No other electronic device has a more dangerous life than our mobile companions. We stuff them into shirt or pant pockets, balance them between the thumb, middle and index finger in the metro, place them on slippery washbasin edges or tuck them away under the batch towel on the beach. Then, if the headphone jack is clogged with lint, camera lens scratches, display cracks or even if our smartphone sinks into the toilet pan, a steep repair bill is in store for us, not to mention the shock and anger we’d feel. According to a Statista survey, the vast majority of smartphone owners would like to repair the damage on their own. But the reality is that you can’t.

During every new product presentation, manufacturers will relentlessly emphasise on how they have adhered to the requests of their customers. However, the need for repair-friendliness is always intentionally neglected. Instead, the devices are stuck together, sealed, provided with exotic special screws and concealed snap-fits. As a result, only authorized technicians are provided with the knowledge and specific tools that allow them to open the devices harmlessly. For example, what is the reason behind Apple using four different types of screws in the iPhone 7? The smartphone not only uses standard cross-head screws inside (PH00) and two five-pointed pentalobes (P2) outside, but also Tri-Wing (Y000) at a few places and then spacing screws having an intersected slotted profile. No answers were given when the question was posed. Of course, other manufacturers are no better in this regard.

For example, IZM – the Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Microintegration – once disassembled 21 commercial tablets and tested them for their recycling and repair friendliness. Among other things, the researchers came to the following conclusion in the process: ‘‘It is nigh impossible for consumers to repair the majority of these devices without damaging parts of the device.”

This is a result of consumers who encouraged this development. If an established manufacturer ever introduces a modular smartphone, as was attempted by LG with the G5 model a year back, in which at least the battery can be replaced without the use of tools, it does not sell. And the test reports of the business magazines and online portals extensively address the performance, features and battery life of a device, but hardly mentions anything about the reparability, never mind the recyclability of the components. Only the energy efficiency has made it to the best lists as an ecological evaluation point.

Reparability Has No Lobby.

A reason behind the less public significance of the repair-friendliness in mobile devices could also be the lack of a universal evaluation system. Only the reparability scores of iFixit (https://www.ifixit. com/Info/Repairability) for smartphones and tablets are officially known in this respect. The company, founded in 2003 in the Californian San Luis Obispo, wants to compile the world’s largest repair manual. In the best Wiki tradition, its employees and many volunteers are uploading repair instructions for mobile electronics and now also for cars, which are openly accessible to everyone. For popular smartphones and tablets, the iFixit engineers are assessing their repair-friendliness on the basis of a catalogue comprising fifteen questions. However, since subjective assessments are also included, such as how long the complete disassembly takes, the results are only comparable if the persons evaluating also have roughly equal technological expertise. This is a given within the iFixit teams, but the evaluation system unfortunately cannot be universally applicable.

Creating comparable criteria.

Therefore, iFixit GmbH (headquartered in Stuttgart), the European subsidiary of iFixit.com, is also involved in the sustainably SMART project. Under this roof and with resources from the EU funding programme Horizont 2020, 17 European companies and research institutes have converged to develop collectively durable, more environmentally-safe, and briefly sustainable end-user devices. The task of the iFixit team is to work out an ergonomically supported evaluation system for the repair-friendliness of mobile electronics.

For example, instead of asking for the required repair duration, the number of tools and steps necessary to achieve a specific repair goal are recorded. As the complexity of repairs is ascertained, it is almost immaterial whether a layman or specialist was at the plant, because these indicators remain the same for both. Incidentally, the iPhone 7 requires eight tools and seven steps if you want to remove the battery.

A Sustainable Smartphone

However, not all smartphone manufacturers are design-smitten eco-grouches. For instance, the Dutch start-up Fairphone has been bracing itself against this trend since 2013. It tries not to use any raw materials from civil war regions in its mobile phones and manufactures the smartphones under fair working conditions. To know the extent to which this is successful, you can visit www. fairphone.com to find out more, because the company provides all the relevant business data online in a transparent manner. The current Fairphone 2 also has a strictly modular structure and is explicitly made for repairs. For example, the battery in this smartphone is removed in two steps and no other tool other than a strong finger nail is required for this. The display unit can also be removed in three working steps.

A long service life makes the difference.

However, the ecological balance of the Fairphone tilts towards the positive only if it is being used much longer than the current conventional duration of two years. This is because, owing to its modular concept, the manufacturing of Fairphone 2 is much more complex than comparable single-use mobile phones. The individual elements for example, will be connected via solid spring contacts instead of thin flat ribbon cables. Therefore, more updated components should gradually be available for upgrades that can extend its service life. The CPU and RAM of this model can’t be change. However, once the outer casing gets a refreshed design, new versions of the main and front camera will also be available within the next few months.

Warranty Claim Remains Valid

It’s not just the screws that are annoying, but also the different exclusion clauses in the warranty promises, which were established by smartphone manufacturers to try to keep customers in line. From a legal point of view, it is always the vendor who must first be approached if there’s any damage to a device and not the manufacturer. However, even if you get the cracked display of your smartphones or tablet repaired at a low-cost from a free workshop, or even lend a hand in the repair café, you are not automatically deprived of all the consumer rights subsequently, where a distinction can be made between the legally prescribed warranty as well as the voluntarily accorded warranty. Vendors are under an obligation to deliver flawless products to their customers and take responsibility for a stipulated number of years, depending on the vendor. Should a defect be found at the time of the delivery, the warranty claim should be accepted automatically as long as the fault is reported within the first six months of the purchase. Of course, the owner must prove this via purchase order or receipt.

With voluntary warranty, the vendor promises a flawlessly functioning product for a specific period, which tends to be one year when it comes to mobile devices.

As an ex-gratia payment, the retailer has the right to stipulate the prerequisites for a warranty. However, retailers cannot refuse all warranty claims across-the-board when it comes to damages, just because its authorised specialist workshop was not consulted or non-original spare parts were used in a previous repair. Rather, the vendor must highlight that such a violation to the warranty conditions could have also been the cause for the damage at the time.

As an ex-gratia payment, the retailer has the right to stipulate the prerequisites for a warranty. However, retailers cannot refuse all warranty claims across-the-board when it comes to damages, just because its authorised specialist workshop was not consulted or non-original spare parts were used in a previous repair. Rather, the vendor must highlight that such a violation to the warranty conditions could have also been the cause for the damage at the time.

 

What buyers should pay attention to ?

  • Repair-friendliness – before purchase, find out about potential repair costs on platforms such as ifixit.com
  • Contact person – For guarantees or warranties, the vendor is always responsible.
  • Burden of proof – Google for precedents if the validity of your warranty claim is in doubt.
  • Documentation – Before you hand over a device, record its malfunctions on a photo or as a video.
  • Self-help – Repair instructions are available on the Internet and the right tools can be purchased online too.
  • Spare parts – Keep your hands off of cheap bargains. In particular, fake batteries can be highly dangerous.
  • Safety – It is better to leave the repairs of hazardous parts, such as the mains adapter, to experts.
  • Liability – Be careful when doing repairs for others. You are liable for your actions