Some of us are old enough to remember the days when you could easily swap out a dud battery in your flip phone. Nowadays, repairing virtually any electronic device — from a smartphone to a gaming console, microwave oven or fan — can cost more than buying a new one. Companies make it hard for technicians to get inside their products, source parts, or update software. So devices are just thrown away, generating potentially hazardous waste and forcing consumers to buy new items whose production further taxes the environment. After long resisting calls from campaign groups for a “right to repair” gadgets, some big manufacturers are starting to change their tune.
Since the first electronic consumer goods emerged in the 1950s, buyers have tried to keep them going by repairing or replacing broken parts. Today, it’s clear that many products are designed to be unfixable. Manufacturers use non-standard screws, seal devices with glue or solder parts together unnecessarily, making it virtually impossible to replace components. The growing complexity of gadgets means technicians need detailed manuals and tools that can be hard or impossible to source. Some manufacturers even tweak the software so their equipment doesn’t work properly when parts are replaced. They’re even accused of updating software to deliberately impair product performance with age. Apple, which says it engineers “each software release to make sure it runs beautifully on all supported devices,” has been a particular focus of grievance.