back to article Brit MPs to Apple CEO: Please stop ignoring our questions about repairability and the environment

The UK's Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) says Apple is still not answering questions relating to its record on the environmental sustainability and repairability of its iStuff. The EAC – a sounder of Members of Parliament that sit on the select committee in the House of Commons – asked the American company to get involved …

  1. Hubert Cumberdale Silver badge

    "For its part, Apple claimed previously that it loses money by repairing customers' gadgets"

    Hm. If it can lose money by charging as much as it does for repairs, then that's basically tantamount to admitting bizarre profligacy in their repair processes, or maybe it's just terrible financial management. Of course, I guess it could be a case of shifting profits and losses around to minimise their tax bill – but surely they wouldn't be so sneaky. There seems to be some truthiness going on somewhere...

    1. Jim Mitchell

      High repair costs are the natural fallout of phones that are designed to be hard to repair.

    2. doublelayer Silver badge

      My guess is that they sometimes just "repair" something by going to the back room, finding another device from that range, and swapping the data over. The device which probably could be repaired is put on a stack of things that will be sent to a repair center where the knowledgable repair technicians will eventually repair its fault, erase it securely, and make it available for sale as refurbished once they get around to building that center, which is scheduled to complete in 2030 but might be delayed because they've just had to move it from China to Mexico and they're looking at moving it again to either Argentina or China for some tax reasons. In the meantime, there's no use keeping the broken parts around so into the big bucket for the electronics recycler at the end of each day.

    3. big_D Silver badge

      If they are losing money on repairs, it means that the products are poorly designed... You know, all glued together and everything breaks if you try and take it apart.

      There needs to be a change in attitude from just supplying new shiny-shiny to actually designing sustainable products, like we used to have. The world of electronics design has taken huge steps backwards over the last couple of decades, at least in terms of repairability and sustainability.

      If a TV broke in the past, it was probably a capacitor or another component that could be de-soldered and a new one soldered onto the board, job done, TV works again. Now everything is so small and tightly packed, that it is next to impossible to repair And whilst the integration of components onto single chips brings benefits in reduced production costs, it comes with a high cost on quality, longevity and repairability.

      The same goes for smartphones or anything else, right up to automotive, aviation, shipping etc.

      Whilst Apple is the poster child for poor repairability of their devices, it is an industry wide trend and we need to take a step back and look at what we are doing and what we will accept as consumers - although it will be hard to get away from, unless everybody suddenly switches to Fairphone and its ilk.

      1. Hubert Cumberdale Silver badge

        To be fair to TV manufacturers, for the most part, TVs are actually still quite easy to repair. And yes, it is often the capacitors (or diodes) that blow. But even if it's something more complex, there are often spare boards available at sensible prices. If I see a TV chucked out on the street, I always bring it in to see if the fix is worth it, and it frequently is – people often just assume it's not worth repairing things these days.

      2. Xalran

        Once upon a time electronic devices like TV, Radios, even dishwashers and wxashing machine came with the complete electric/electronic schema in the user manual. There's even some Hifi brands that still do that, but on the whole nowadays electronic stuff is just black boxes when it comes to fixing things.

        1. Strahd Ivarius Bronze badge

          The Apple II came with complete documentation on the design of motherboard, and even of the power supply.

          My dad used it at the technical school where he was a professor as an example to his students.

          But it was in another millennium...

          1. Binraider

            Commodore were very good with handing out the motherboard circuit diagrams too - C64 and my A2000 both came with very comprehensive drawings in the manuals. I didn't know enough at the time to take advantage of them; what being 10 years old. First real electronics "project" I picked up was soldering a 25-pin null modem cable to play F16 combat pilot on a pair of 8086s. Good times.

  2. IGotOut Silver badge

    Easy way to get a response.

    Send a tweet out that the UK Goverment were considering they may make it law that vendors have supply spare parts to any 3rd parties at cost price.

    I'd reckon you'd have a response in about oooo 30 seconds?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Easy way to get a response.

      As in, "UK - didn't we used to have to give a shit when you were in the EU?"

    2. 45RPM

      Re: Easy way to get a response.

      Yeah, but if HM Government aren’t going to follow the rule of law then why should anyone else?

      So, on that basis, the 30 second response is likely to be howls of laughter.

      For the record, I think that it absolutely should be an obligation that all products are long lived, easily repairable (by third parties) and recyclable (by third parties). This isn’t about one company vs the other, its about doing what’s right for the planet.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Easy way to get a response.

        "For the record, I think that it absolutely should be an obligation that all products are long lived, easily repairable (by third parties) and recyclable (by third parties)."

        If those criteria could be made objective then there could be penalties such as substantially higher VAT or environmental surcharges for badly performing products.

      2. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

        Re: Easy way to get a response.

        This isn’t about one company vs the other, its about doing what’s right for the planet FTFY. "The planet" doesn't care one way or the other. Seriously folks, drop the pseudo-religious rhetoric and focus on efficiency and fairness and you'll have a lot more people onside.

        1. 45RPM

          Re: Easy way to get a response.

          But you have to admit that “The Planet” is a convenient shorthand for “everyone, including all the plants and animals”. I suppose I could substitute “The Biosphere”. Would you prefer that?

          As for being religious, I’d argue that if ever there was a good cause to be religious about, it’s about something that a) gives life and b) undeniably exists. Let’s call it “The Planet”. Or Earth. As long as we look after it I couldn’t care less what we call it.

          1. Strahd Ivarius Bronze badge

            Re: Easy way to get a response.

            The only thing the biosphere is asking is "when will these pesky humans manage to extinct themselves?".

            And then it will go on with new species, even if it takes some million years to erase the damage.

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  4. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

    Blah blah blah

    BS BS BS

    Lets issue some waffle instead of actually doing something about it.

    It would be better to see MPs announce that from Jan 2022 All personal hi-tec stuff (phones/watches/pads) must be able to have their batteries removed and replaced using a standard screwdriver in the way of tooling, and the suppliers make such parts available to buy at a reasonable price.

    I've got a cheap android pad thats completely good to go... except the battery is dead, and its impossible to get at it without destroying said pad...more e waste

  5. Lars Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    The easy solution

    Don't buy Apple devices.

    1. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: The easy solution

      That's easy, but it solves nothing. If I want a phone, I have to get one from someone. One of the benefits that Apple provides is long software support, which I really can't get with Android devices. This means that it is safe to use for longer, lessening my production of electronics going to recyclers. There are a few devices that, via Lineage OS or similar, get support for much longer. I'm currently using one of those. I am going to have to replace it at some point soon though because it is now rebooting unexpectedly (I blame the battery but I don't have evidence). Still, that device has lasted around seven years whereas its manufacturer dropped support and security updates for it in 2015. Unfortunately, scanning Lineage's supported devices list doesn't bode well as they're low on supported modern devices.

      You want a real solution? Get the Android manufacturers to increase the lifetime of software and security updates along with some standard for repairability. Otherwise, I'm faced with the choice of Apple (software will last but hardware won't, probably fine since I have a good record of not damaging my hardware) and most other manufacturers (software won't last and hardware ... probably won't be any more repairable than Apple's to be honest). Dropping Apple from my list isn't going to help solve the base problem.

      1. 45RPM

        Re: The easy solution

        …and, with regard to the battery problem, Apple replaced the battery and serviced my iPhone 7 (service probably didn't amount to much more than giving it a quick buff with a micro-fibre cloth) for £50.

        £50, and it feels like new again. It's got its endurance back, and it isn't throttling any more. It's got the latest OS on it and, honestly, I don't think that there's any phone from any manufacturer running any OS that does anything that my iPhone 7 doesn't and that I'd want it to do. Which makes £50 a bargain.

        1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

          Re: The easy solution

          Yes, but for £50 I can have a shop replace battery and USB port on at least two Android devices of the same age (or do it myself for much less). As I have said here before, I recently changed battery and screen on an iPhone 5 for a reasonable amount, but that was because of the absence of glue on that model. In an ideal world, Android would have the longevity of iOS and SailfishOS, and Apple would have the repairability of pre-glue devices - but phones would be more expensive as a result.

          1. 45RPM

            Re: The easy solution

            I’m not going to disagree with that. Right on. But if the damn things were built properly and repairably then perhaps the increased cost wouldn’t be a problem - because there’d we a thriving second hand market.

    2. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Re: The easy solution

      > Don't buy Apple devices.

      The problem... as an Android owner... is that Google/Android sucks just as much, and there's not any real competition to the current duopoly since Microsoft has proved exceedingly incompetent at phones.

      1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

        Re: The easy solution

        It would be good if SailfishOS could be ported to more devices.

  6. chivo243 Silver badge
    Gimp

    Yes, it is the consumers\fanbois

    Drinking the Kool-Aid. I gotta have the newest! I'll wait in line!

    Or as in my case, 2 iPhones over 8 years, and the boy is using my old iPhone 5, (which was used and free) and loving it. My current SE was purchased used, it will need a new battery in due time, but this model is pretty easy to replace the battery, like the 5. Apple hasn't always been unrepairable, just in recent memory. I love the Unibody MacBook, that model should have stayed in production for the education sector.

    1. DS999

      Re: Yes, it is the consumers\fanbois

      Actually iPhones are MORE repairable now than they were in the first few years. Especially for battery replacement, which along with replacing a broken screen is all that 99% of phone owners care about anyway.

      They were getting a 7 on iFixit 3 or 4 years ago, now its down to a 6 (because of the difficulty and expense of replacing the glass back if it breaks) But when other flagships like Samsung Galaxy S / Note are 3s and 4s a 6 sounds pretty good.

      1. RM Myers Silver badge
        Unhappy

        Re: Yes, it is the consumers\fanbois

        Yes, and getting hit over the head sounds pretty good if the alternative is getting your head cut off. On my previous phone, replacing the battery took about 1 minute (15 minutes if you include the time to order the battery online, etc.) and cost about $11. I now have an iPhone 11, and that 6 on repairability is not sounding very good to me.

        1. Hubert Cumberdale Silver badge

          Re: Yes, it is the consumers\fanbois

          In my current phone, replacing the battery takes approximately two seconds. For my HTC Desire S (back when I was in the smartphone crowd) I used to keep two batteries and use an external charger – swapping them took about 10 seconds. Never even had to leave it plugged in. Why can't we go back to those days?

        2. Strahd Ivarius Bronze badge
          Joke

          Re: Yes, it is the consumers\fanbois

          People these days, managing to have an online order delivered in 14 minutes...

  7. Pascal Monett Silver badge
    Coat

    "how Apple was tackling past and future carbon emissions"

    With glue.

    Lots of glue.

  8. Old Used Programmer

    Ban the un- or barely repairable?

    How about taking the iFixit rating and banning any device that has a repairability index below a set value, and have that value rise over time? For instance...ban anything with an index below 3 and gradually raise that to--say--6.

    1. Cederic Silver badge

      Re: Ban the un- or barely repairable?

      Ah, you must hold shares in iFixit. Because around three weeks after such a law was proposed Apple would buy them.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Ban the un- or barely repairable?

        Twenty years ago the EU started making noises about the manufacturer being made responsible for end-of-life recycling for their products. The idea is that then products wouldn't only be designed to be easily manufacturable, but also easily to dismantle into constituent parts.

        This is partly why devices are glued together - devices *can* be passed through an oven and easily pulled apart. This is far less labour intensive than employing someone to unscrew dozens of fasteners.

        Another reasons is durability and weight, which is why car companies are using glue instead if screws. Screw bosses create stress risers, whereas glue can distribute a load along the whole length of a structural component.

        Just because an amateur finds something difficult to do, it doesn't mean that a company with the correct tools and equipment finds it difficult to do.

        1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

          Re: Ban the un- or barely repairable?

          "Just because an amateur finds something difficult to do, it doesn't mean that a company with the correct tools and equipment finds it difficult to do."

          But this is part of the problem with Apple - those "correct tools and equipment" are jealously guarded, as are the parts. I do a bit of volunteering with a small group that tries to repair old electronics, and modern top-flight phones and tablets are almost impossible because the equipment to de-glue and re-glue is very expensive and not easy to use (apparently, according to the more "senior" members if the group).

          1. Hubert Cumberdale Silver badge

            Re: Ban the un- or barely repairable?

            Like the bastard thing they pulled with pentalobe screws a few years back.

            1. gnasher729 Silver badge

              Re: Ban the un- or barely repairable?

              So what's the problem with pentalobe screws? Pentalobe screwdrivers are widely available. And if there is a pentalobe screw anywhere, and you can't figure out where to get the screw driver, then frankly you shouldn't open it.

              (I still have a screwdriver somewhere in my toolbox that was needed to open an original 1984 Macintosh case :-)

              1. Hubert Cumberdale Silver badge

                Re: Ban the un- or barely repairable?

                Yes, they're available now, but they weren't then. The only reason they ever included them was to thwart repair. Perfectly sensible solutions already existed to keep out the complete idiots (e.g. security Torx heads), so all they did by using a bizarre screw head was to cause a slight gap in repairability until China caught on and started making compatible drivers. Now all it does is give money to the makers of said drivers while serving no other purpose whatsoever.

  9. DJV Silver badge

    The Register has asked Apple to comment

    Apple are obviously helping to save the environment by not wasting the generation of power it would take to email some comments back to El Reg.

    Or some other BS like that!

  10. Martin Pittaway

    Longevity

    Do these people ever actually look at the products and evaluate them properly?

    Windows and Zoom users the lot of them.

    Since when did you see as 12 year old PC Laptop still running on it's own battery: and still looking good because the design is so great. iMacs manufactured in 2006 still working fine even if the OS is a little out dated but still more secure than anything Microsoft have introduced with Windows. And of course still using Microsoft Office.

    Accountants consistently tell us that the most cost effective computer is Mac.

    As usual MP's talking out of their anal cavities. Just like they're doing with Brexit and Covid.

  11. codejunky Silver badge

    Erm

    Why is this an issue for a committee of politicians? Did they get bored of meeting about which biscuits they should have next meeting? People obviously want the stuff so they even pay a huge premium (if its Apple) to get it. Apple is not in the environment business and just because they are big does not mean they should be slammed for the problem.

    If there is an environmental clean up cost to getting rid of this stuff then add it as a tax to the product. That way the people buying it (from anyone not just Apple) are paying the cost of clean up. How repairable and whatever daft sustainability criteria is up to the people, and they vote with their wallets.

    1. Robert Grant Silver badge

      Re: Erm

      Yeah, I agree. Targeting due to outrage is a bad idea.

    2. Strahd Ivarius Bronze badge
      Unhappy

      Re: Erm

      France added an eco-tax in 2006 to consumer electronics, in order to fund the recycling of these products, following an EU directive (so I suppose there is the same thing - for the moment in UK).

      For a MacBook Pro sold at 2200 € the value of the tax is currently 0.5 € ...

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