iFixit gives Fairphone 3 a perfect 10 for repairability – gpgmail

Here’s something the hermetically sealed iPhone can’t do: Score a perfect 10 for repairability.

Smartphone startup and social enterprise Fairphone’s latest repairable-by-design smartphone has done just that, getting 10/10 in an iFixit Teardown vs scores of just 6/10 for recent iPhone models.

The Fairphone 3, which was released in Europe last week with an RRP of €450, gets thumbs up across the board in iFixit’s hardware Teardown. It found all the internal modules to be easily accessible and replaceable — with only basic tools required to get at them (Fairphone includes a teeny screwdriver in the box). iFixit also lauds visual cues that help with disassembly and reassembly, and notes that repair guides and spare parts are available on Fairphone’s website.

iFixit’s sole quibble is that while most of the components inside the Fairphone 3’s modules are individually replaceable “some” are soldered on. A tiny blip that doesn’t detract from the 10/10 repairability score

Safe to say, such a score is the smartphone exception. The industry continues to encourage buyers to replace an entire device, via yearly upgrade, instead of enabling them to carry out minor repairs themselves — so they can extend the lifespan of their device and thereby shrink environmental impact.

Dutch startup Fairphone was set up to respond to the abject lack of sustainability in the electronics industry. The tiny company has been pioneering modularity for repairability for several years now, flying in the face of smartphone giants that are still routinely pumping out sealed tablets of metal and glass which often don’t even let buyers get at the battery to replace it themselves.

To wit: An iFixit Teardown of the Google Pixel rates battery replacement as “difficult” with a full 20 steps and between 1-2 hours required. (Whereas the Fairphone 3 battery can be accessed in seconds, by putting a fingernail under the plastic back plate to pop it off and lifting the battery out.)

The Fairphone 3 goes much further than offering a removable backplate for getting at the battery, though. The entire device has been designed so that its components are accessible and repairable.

So it’s not surprising to see it score a perfect 10 (the startup’s first modular device, Fairphone 2, was also scored 10/10 by iFixit). But it is strong, continued external validation for the Fairphone’s designed-for-repairability claim.

It’s an odd situation in many respects. In years past replacement batteries were the norm for smartphones, before the cult of slimming touchscreen slabs arrived to glue phone innards together. Largely a consequence of hardware business models geared towards profiting from pushing for clockwork yearly upgrades cycle — and slimmer hardware is one way to get buyers coveting your next device.

But it’s getting harder and harder to flog the same old hardware horse because smartphones have got so similarly powerful and capable there’s precious little room for substantial annual enhancements.

Hence iPhone maker Apple’s increasing focus on services. A shift that’s sadly not been accompanied by a rethink of Cupertino’s baked in hostility towards hardware repairability. (It still prefers, for example, to encourage iPhone owners to trade in their device for a full upgrade.)

At Apple’s 2019 new product announcement event yesterday — where the company took the wraps off another clutch of user-sealed smartphones (aka: iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro) — there was even a new financing offer to encourage iPhone users to trade in their old models and grab the new ones. ‘Look, we’re making it more affordable to upgrade!’ was the message.

Meanwhile, the only attention paid to sustainability — during some 1.5 hours of keynotes — was a slide which passed briefly behind marketing chief Phil Schiller towards the end of his turn on stage puffing up the iPhone updates, encouraging him to pause for thought.

“iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 are made to be designed free from these harmful materials and of course to reduce their impact on the environment,” he said in front of a list of some toxic materials that are definitely not in the iPhones.

Stuck at the bottom of this list were a couple of detail-free claims that the iPhones are produced via a “low-carbon process” and are “highly recyclable”. (The latter presumably a reference to how Apple handles full device trade-ins. But as anyone who knows about sustainability will tell you, sustained use is far preferable to premature recycling…)

“This is so important to us. That’s why I bring it up every time. I want to keep pushing the boundaries of this,” Schiller added, before pressing the clicker to move on to the next piece of marketing fodder. Blink and you’d have missed it.

If Apple truly wants to push the boundaries on sustainability — and not just pay glossy lip-service to reducing environmental impact for marketing purposes while simultaneously encouraging annual upgrades — it has a very long way to go indeed.

As for repairability, the latest and greatest iPhones clearly won’t hold a candle to the Fairphone.

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Apple to Allow Indie iPhone Repair Shops to Buy Tools and Parts

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Apple has announced that it will sell more repair tools and supplies to independent third-party repair shops, allowing them to make a wider variety of repairs. According to the company:

Apple will provide more independent repair businesses — large or small — with the same genuine parts, tools, training, repair manuals and diagnostics as its Apple Authorized Service Providers (AASPs). The program is launching in the US with plans to expand to other countries.

The program is free to join and only requires that a repair-person complete an Apple course for certification. This would be a significant change to Apple’s existing repair programs. In the past, as Motherboard has detailed, Apple’s “authorized” repair program was barely a repair program at all. Back in 2017, Apple only allowed authorized shops to complete a few simple fixes. Everything else had to be shipped to Apple for repair, which is part of what drove people away from using these services in the first place.

And, as Kyle Wiens of iFixit points out, there are still some hurdles in place that Apple can use to lock companies out of the program. Apple’s own documentation states that “Meeting program requirements does not guarantee acceptance,” and “Apple reserves the right to reject any application without comment.”

iFixit’s Kevin Purdy points out another concern about Apple’s program — its pricing. When pricing data leaked for a Genius Parts Repair program that Apple was supposedly considering last March, some of the repair costs were significantly higher than Apple charges. iFixit writes:

In those documents, batteries ranged from $16-$33 for the iPhone 6s through the XS Max, which is modest and normal. Screens, however, cost up to $350 for an XS Max, which is $20 more than Apple’s own out-of-warranty repair cost, before the independent shop even factors in their own labor costs and margins.

It’s unclear from today’s release whether offering genuine parts for sale to this larger network will increase the range of repairs that shops can provide. In those leaked documents, we saw parts for screens, batteries, cameras, speakers, receivers, and vibration (aka the Taptic Engine). Some of those related repairs would typically require a phone to be sent into Apple, rather than repaired on-premises in a store or Authorized Service Provider.

There’s also the question of whether Apple is taking these steps in an attempt to decrease user interest in robust Right to Repair legislation programs. Many companies have strenuously lobbied against allowing customers to repair their own hardware, claiming variously that disallowing customers from fixing their own equipment is either a security issue or a product quality problem. Manufacturers have always made such claims to lock up valuable after-market repair services, and Apple is no different. Even as the company has supposedly been working on expanding its authorized repair program, it’s also been working to make it more difficult for people to fix iPhones by locking out third-party batteries so they refuse to report their own health.

We’ll wait and see what actual prices and services look like before drawing a conclusion, but Apple hasn’t exactly earned a reputation for looking out for the best interests of its customers as far as repairs are concerned. Issues like ‘Error 53‘ and the iPhone 6 Plus’ bending problem — which Apple knew about in advance and simply lied about — have harmed the company’s reputation.

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