Should you have the right to repair your phone?

Anyone who’s ever cracked their phone screen or had to replace a faulty laptop battery will know how expensive gadgets can be to repair. Typically, there are only two routes you can go: a) you can send the product back to its manufacturer for (a very costly) repair, or b) you can trust the capabilities of an off-brand local repair shop to do the job for you – though cheaper, this still tends to be pricey.

Enter the so-called ‘Right to Repair’. In short, more and more governments are proposing legislation that ensures manufacturers of tech products make them easy and accessible to repair for customers. The idea gained traction in the US with key figures such as Senator Bernie Sanders and Senator Elizabeth Warren endorsing it and is now due to be implemented by EU environment ministries by April 2021.

Products affected by the new laws include: TVs and monitors, lights, fridges and other white goods, phones and handheld tech, and more. Once the legislation kicks in, companies will be forced to design products that can be easily fixed by customers. This means they will now have to provide instructions for repair, as well as a whole swathe of spare parts that were previously held only by the manufacturers themselves.

So, why make the change at all? The core of the argument is that customers who pay money for any product should have the intrinsic right to repair said product themselves, and it is the duty of the manufacturer make this as easy and achievable as possible. Often, due to artificially inflated repair prices, customers simply buy the newer version of a product to replace the faulty one, rather than carrying out a repair that would fix the problem. This locks customers in a strangle hold – why pay three quarters the price of the newest iPhone to get a two-year old model replaced when you could just buy the shiny new one instead? The wastefulness of this system is what is prompting many to back the movement.  

Further to this, the United Nations University estimates that e-waste, a massive pollutant on the environment, will reach 52 million metric tonnes by 2021, or the equivalent of 4,500 Eiffel Towers, as points out. This could be avoided, argues UK Environment Minister Therese Coffey, if tech companies ‘made their products easier to reuse and repair … [and] last longer’. She states that the UK Government is willing to ‘consider mandatory extended warranties and clearer product labelling if necessary to achieve this’.

What could the counter argument to this possibly be, then? Predictably, the majority of the push-back comes primarily from the manufacturers themselves. Since such a large amount of money is garnered from an annual product life cycle, and the profit margin on the repair parts is so great, there is little incentive for these companies to comply. They typically argue that putting the repairs in the hands of the consumers could ultimately endanger the safety of the device in question, due to the complexity of the tech and the average know-how of the customer. This, arguably, could be fixed by the simplification of the tech and the implementation of better instructions and information included with the product.

Seen from another angle, however, this simplification and ease of access to customers could end up hurting the customer experience. If components such as batteries and screens are to be made more accessible to customers, this will almost certainly impact the design of the product. Ease of access and beauty of design are two things that don’t typically mix well. Take a modular tower desktop PC versus a Macbook Pro. The desktop is fully customisable and can be assembled and repaired however the customer desires. It also sits at about two feet tall, is black and blocky, and its fans will be loud and vibrate your desk. Then look at a 2019 MacBook pro. It has a sleek form factor, is less than 3/4s of an inch thick, and is mostly silent. Repairs, however, can also cost north of £600, as you have to send it to an Apple specialist to be worked on. Furthermore, more complex and pioneering tech such as LCD screens in fridges may be axed, as these may prove to be too complex for companies to make repairable to the public.

If consumers are willing to take a potential hit to design and function, this new legislation could signal a new era of tech-transparency. Instead of vast and faceless tech companies holding all the keys, the power would now lie with the customer – the people forking out thousands of pounds for the tech – to expect better from the manufacturer.

Here at Polestar we like to keep an eye on all the latest trends and legislation so we can be as informed as possible when working with clients, regardless of their sector. As we all observe the world of business is rapidly evolving due to social and political, as well as economic factors, and it’s in a company’s best interest to stay up to date if they want to stay ahead of the game.

‘Right to repair’ legislation aims to alleviate waste and make products easier to fix

By Rebecca Garland on 13/06/2019