It’s time to fix your phone

When I called iFixit CEO Kyle Wiens, I thought he’d celebrate — after years of fighting for the right to fix, big-name companies like Google and Samsung suddenly agreed to supply parts for their phones. Not only that, they signed deals with for him to sell those parts through iFixit, along with the company’s own repair manuals and tools. So did Valve.

But Wiens says he’s not done closing the deals yet. “There’s more to come,” he says, one two months from now. (No, it’s not Apple.) Motorola was actually the first to sign in nearly four years ago. And if Apple purposefully joins them in offering parts to consumers — as it promised by early 2022 — the era of fixing your phone could be on the way. Last October, the US made it virtually legal to open several devices for the purpose of repair with an exception to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Now, the necessary parts arrive.

What has changed? Haven’t these companies been fighting tooth and nail to keep the right to repair off the table, sometimes surreptitiously stopping bills at the last minute? certainly. But some legislation is being passed anyway… and one French law in particular may have been the turning point.

“The thing that changes the game more than anything is the French scorecard for repair,” Wiens says, referring to a 2021 law requiring tech companies to disclose how repairable their phones are — on a scale of 0.0 to 10.0 — next to the price of the card. Even Apple had to add scores for the fix – but Wiens directs me to this press release from Samsung instead. When Samsung commissioned a study to check whether the results of the French repair were meaningful, it not only found scorecards on hand – it found something amazing. 80 percent of respondents would be willing to give up their preferred brand for a product that scored higher.

The degree of repair can be seen at the bottom right of the product page.

“I’ve done extensive studies on the scorecard and it works,” Wiens says. “It’s driving behavior, it’s changing consumer buying patterns.”

Stick, meet carrots. Wiens suggests that seeing an opportunity prompted these companies to take iFixit into the bargain.

Nathan Proctor, director of the Campaign for the Right to Reform at the US Public Interest Research Group (US PIRG), still thinks the baton in the first place deserves thanks. “It would be naive to say 100 percent…but none of this happens unless there is a threat of legislation.”

“These companies have known these have been problems for a long time, and until we marshaled enough leverage to seem inevitable, none of the big companies had particularly good repair programs, and now they advertise them all,” Proctor notes. My attention is drawn to the fact that the European Parliament just voted 509-3 in favor of requiring the EU to force manufacturers to make devices more salvageable.

“I think there’s a growing realization and resignation that phones are going to last longer and there’s nothing they can do about it,” Wiens says.

Proctor admits that Google may have a financial incentive, too. “Google is a huge, huge company, but Pixel phone sales aren’t a huge part of the market, are they? Some carrot is that they can do something about a really popular antitrust case in a region where they’re not the dominant player.”

What about the practical reasons tech companies have held up the right to repair in the past, concerns about consumers hacking their batteries or breaking their phones, and forcing companies like Google or Samsung to deal with more support calls? Wiens says they are a bit exaggerated. But he also claims that’s why these companies choose iFixit, because their website provides repair guides and tools designed specifically to make people less likely to fail.

Samsung, Google, and even Valve don’t necessarily open the door wide for every kind of fix, keep in mind. Wiens says iFixit won’t sell any boards with chips on it, so if your Pixel shows the kind of infamous bootloop problem that has plagued many Nexus phones, you’ll still need to Google to fix it. “[Boards are] Certainly something to look at, but there are supply chain challenges around doing this, he says.

Google Pixels along with iFixit Tools.
Photo: iFixit

Most importantly, the most common parts that should already be included in iFixit’s new spare parts stashes, like official screens and batteries, and iFixit says it’s committed to supporting phones even if it has to stockpile “last chance” components when factories stop making them. While it’s hard to predict how many of these components they’ll need, manufacturers help some, and share data with iFixit, like how many phones they’ve sold.

Wiens says iFixit already has hundreds of thousands of parts in an off-site warehouse, and is currently expanding as a result of these deals. Wiens won’t say whether the tech companies will support the parts or how much they’ll pay, but iFixit says they have to buy them and will sell them at a premium.

While you don’t necessarily need officially certified parts for every type of repair, it seems there may be some perks: iFixit repair kits will come with the same kind of pre-cut waterproofing gaskets that Google and Samsung use to properly re-seal their own phones. “As long as you do it right, get the seal all the way through, you’ll be good again,” Wiens says.

He says it’s something more people should do once every year or two anyway — because the adhesive that manufacturers use to insulate their devices tends to wear out over time. “You do your first test in the shower and you’re happy with it, which doesn’t mean that after three months you’ll still be working in the shower,” he adds.

Regardless of whether these companies are pushed or led, the result may be the same: an era in which your aging phone can stay good enough for much longer than it might otherwise. Politicians, governments, regulators, shareholders, and advocacy groups such as the American PIRG are all lobbying, and the opportunity may open as well.

“If the market changes and people keep phones for longer… eventually the companies will change and they will find a way to make more money in that environment, right?” Proctor says, noting that a phone that lasts may be another way to entice customers to stay. “I am only encouraged that these incentives are now more aligned with what is best for people on the planet.”

I fully expect tech companies to continue to resist the right to reform in some respects, even while pretending to embrace it. (We’ve seen this from Apple before, and Apple did not respond to a request for comment this week about its self-service repair program.) There are many ways companies can avoid them, such as charging big fees for parts or throwing them away. Scary warnings – to its credit Apple is backing down.

And of course, they’ll continue to tempt you to quickly upgrade to new phones, like how carriers brought back the support model last year to stimulate sales while society was still stuck at home, and how Apple is looking to sell the iPhone as a subscription service now.

But it seems like when my iPhone mini battery runs out and there’s no new mini device to replace it, I’ll be able to replace the battery myself. And if not? I might take a hint and go for a newly repairable Pixel.