As a technology user, I’ve had my fair share of phones, controllers, and computer parts fail on me over the years. Whenever your screen breaks, your phone camera uncontrollably jitters, your battery becomes so degraded that it makes your device borderline unusable without a charger, etc., you have to make the uncomfortable decision: should I replace my phone or get it repaired? However, there’s one other option that manufacturers don’t want you to consider: repairing it yourself.
I’ve personally done two repairs myself; one was a camera replacement for my phone and the other was a battery replacement for my laptop. They both were successful, but the process for each was stressful since I didn’t know if everything was going to work at the end. This is because as a tradeoff for sleek designs, companies have made devices that aren’t user-repairable (even though that’s against most people’s wishes), leading to expensive repair costs and electronic waste. Another possible reason is that companies want their products to have shorter lifespans so they can sell more of their other products. This reasoning would convince consumers to buy a new, shiny device rather than try to repair their old, dull one.
In other words, in this current technological climate, companies are making products that consumers can’t readily fix, even though the consumers bought them with their own money. The debate around this topic is known as “right to repair,” and tech companies aren’t a fan of it for the reasons aforementioned. However, this business practice may come to an end in the future due to societal and economic pressure from international governments and the free market.
Government legislation around the right to repair hasn’t been much of a thing until recently. In these last few months, huge strides have been made towards a more user-repairable future. On the state level, Massachusetts residents voted to have new car models include diagnostic tools and open software so that users can repair them themselves. On the federal level, President Biden passed an executive order which would command the Federal Trade Commision to force manufacturers to stop restricting independent repair shops from repairing their products. On the international level, the EU has officially made USB-C the standard for charging mobile devices moving forward. This kind of mass standardization will allow for cheaper replacement charging parts, especially in regards to Apple (who still uses Lightning cables and ports for iPhones). These kinds of gestures are a signal of a shifting paradigm. Governmental authorities are preparing to make companies bend to the will of the consumer (instead of their shareholders) which means that we might have more user-repairable technology in the future. However, rules and regulations can be evaded with enough litigation and lobbying. The biggest way companies will oblige to right-to-repair practices is if it’s profitable.
In terms of the free market, the average consumer doesn’t have much power over what companies do. Even if you are a devout Android user who only buys phones with easily replaceable batteries, that still won’t have an effect on the millions upon millions of iPhone sales. It may be possible to get the attention of these companies if millions of people stop buying their products in exchange for other companies that cater to the concerns of the consumer. However, that kind of collective action is extremely hard to organize, especially when it concerns a topic like right-to-repair, a topic that doesn’t have the flashiest of branding on the surface. No, the solution instead is to try and compete for market share with some form of right to repair technology in mind, causing such a strong disruption that other companies will be economically forced to enact some form of right to repair improvements to compete. While this isn’t happening in the realm of cell phones, it is happening in the world of laptops. A new startup called Framework is priding itself by selling laptops “designed to last.” They do this through having most of the laptops’ hardware accessible either by magnets and screws that all share the same bit. This, along with other features like scannable QR codes for replacement parts and swappable ports, has earned Framework praise with the tech community from right to repair advocates like iFixit and Linus Tech Tips. In fact, the main man behind Linus Tech Tips, Linus Sebastian, invested nearly $225,000 into the company with the hopes of using his connections to further the company’s endeavors. If Framework or another company with the same kind of right to repair mentality can have economic success, repairability will be a “must-have” feature in laptops and other devices moving forward. It’s too early to tell whether or not Framework will be successful, but I wouldn’t count them out.
Overall, tech companies are hesitant to create devices that would be easily repairable because that would result in less profits for them. However, these anti-right to repair practices are starting to become old news as more and more government regulations and repair-friendly companies pressure existing tech companies to change their ways. This may be a bit of an optimistic view, but I believe as more and more modern technology starts to age and fail, this demand for easily-repairable technology will soar. Once right to repair advocates have their way and companies oblige, people can rest assured that their devices won’t be ruined anytime they try to “open the hood” and fix their devices themselves.