When I called iFixit CEO Kyle Wiens, I thought he’d be celebrating — after years of fighting for repair rights, major companies like Google and Samsung have suddenly agreed to provide spare parts for their phones. Not only that, they signed deals with it to sell those parts through iFixit, in addition to the company’s repair manuals and tools. So did Valve.
But Wiens says he’s not done making deals yet. “There are more to come,” he says, one in a few months. (No, it’s not Apple.) Motorola was actually the first to sign up nearly four years ago. And if Apple meaningfully joins them in offering spare parts to consumers — as it promised to do in early 2022 — the era of repairing your own phone could begin. Last October, the United States made it legal to open many devices for repair with an exception to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Now the necessary parts come in.
What changed? Were these companies not fighting tooth and nail to keep the right to repair off the table, sometimes secretly closing the bills at the last minute? Secure. But some legislation will pass… and one French law in particular could be the tipping point.
“What changes the game more than anything else is France’s repairability scorecard,” Wiens said, referring to a 2021 law requiring tech companies to disclose how repairable their phones are — on a scale of 1.0 to 10. 0 – right next to their price tag. Even Apple was forced to add recovery scores, but Wiens points me to this press release from Samsung instead. When Samsung commissioned a study to check if the French reparability scores made sense, it didn’t just find the scorecards useful – it found a staggering 80 percent of respondents would be willing to give up their favorite brand for a product that scored higher.
“The scorecard has been extensively researched and it works,” says Wiens. “It drives the behavior, it changes the buying behavior of the consumer.”
Stick, meet carrot. Wiens saw an opportunity and forced these companies to include iFixit in the deal.
Nathan Proctor, director of the Campaign for the Right to Repair at the US Public Interest Research Group (US PIRG), still thinks the stick is primarily due to. “It feels bold to say 100 percent… but this won’t happen unless there’s a threat from legislation.”
“These companies had known these were issues for a long time, and until we organized enough clout to make it seem inevitable, none of the big companies had particularly good repair programs and now they’re announcing them all,” notes Proctor. He draws my attention to the fact that the European Parliament has just voted 509-3 to ask the EU to force manufacturers to make devices more repairable.
“I think there’s a growing awareness and resignation that phones last longer and there’s nothing they can do about it,” Wiens says.
Google may also have a financial incentive, admits Proctor. “Google is a huge, huge company, but selling their Pixel phones isn’t a huge part of the market, right? Part of the root is that they can do something about a really popular antitrust, antimonopoly problem in an area where they are not the dominant player.
What about the practical reasons why technology companies have historically prevented the right to repair, worries about consumers accidentally puncturing their batteries or breaking their phones, and forcing companies like Google or Samsung to handle more support calls? Whose says they are a bit over the top. But he also claims that’s why these companies chose iFixit, because its website offers repair guides and specially designed tools that make people less likely to screw up.
Samsung, Google and even Valve don’t necessarily open the floodgates to any kind of repair, mind you. Wiens says iFixit won’t sell boards with chips, so if your Pixel is causing the kind of infamous bootloop problem that plagued many Nexus phones, you still need Google to fix it. †[Boards are] definitely something to look at, but there are challenges in the supply chain to make it,” he says.
Importantly, the most common parts must indeed be included in iFixit’s new parts cache, such as official screens and batteries, and iFixit says it’s committed to supporting phones even if it needs to store “last chance” components as factories. stop making them. While it’s difficult to predict how many of those components they’ll need, the manufacturers are helping some by sharing data with iFixit, such as how many phones they’ve sold.
Wiens says iFixit already has hundreds of thousands of parts in a third-party warehouse and is currently expanding as a result of these deals. Wiens won’t say whether tech companies will subsidize the parts or how much you’ll pay, but iFixit says it should buy them and sell them for a fee.
While you don’t necessarily need officially approved parts for every kind of repair, it sounds like there are some benefits: iFixit’s repair kits come with the same kind of pre-cut waterproofing gaskets that Google and Samsung use to reseal their own phones. “As long as you do it right, get the seal all the way around, then you’re good again,” says Wiens.
He says it’s something more people should probably do once every two years — because the glue manufacturers use to waterproof their gadgets wear out over time. “You take your first test in the shower and you’re happy with it, that doesn’t mean it still works in the shower three months later,” he adds.
Regardless of whether these companies are pushed or led, the result could be the same: an era where your outdated, good-enough phone can stay good enough for much longer than it otherwise would. Politicians, governments, regulators, shareholders and interest groups like the US PIRG exert pressure, and it can also provide opportunities.
“If the market changed and people stuck with phones for much longer… eventually the companies would change and find a way to make more money in that environment, right?” says Proctor, suggesting that a phone that lasts might be another way to keep customers staying. “I’m just encouraged that those incentives are now a little bit more aligned with what’s better for people on the planet.”
I fully expect that tech companies will continue to resist the right to repair in some ways, even if they pretend to embrace it. (We’ve seen that from Apple before, and Apple didn’t respond to a request for comment about its Self Service Repair Program this week.) There are many ways companies can mess around, like asking too many for parts or throwing out terrifying warnings on — to its credit, Apple seems to be finding out.
And, of course, they’ll keep tempting you to quickly upgrade to new phones, like how last year carriers brought back the subsidy model to boost sales while society was still sitting at home, and how Apple reportedly wants to sell the iPhone as a subscription service now.
But it sounds like when my iPhone mini’s battery is dead and there’s no new mini to replace it, I can change the battery myself. And if not? I could take a hint and switch to a new fixable Pixel.