back to article Big right-to-repair win: FTC blasts tech giants for making it so difficult to mend devices

America's consumer watchdog, the FTC, today scolded technology makers for their anti-repair practices, and signaled it will support new legislation that ensures people can mend their own stuff without penalty. In short, the FTC said manufacturers were, among other things, regularly breaking or stretching warranty law, …

  1. Winkypop Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Some products are expected to display energy ratings

    Why not make tech products show repairability ratings?

    Make it a selling point, or at least a point of difference.

    Let the consumers know.

    1. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge
      FAIL

      Re: Some products are expected to display energy ratings

      More to the point, poor repairability dominates the environmental impact a company has. Apple can plant all the trees it wants, but the poor repairability & short planned obsolescence times of its products makes it environmentally as dirty as an oil company drilling with endangered species tied to its drill bits. There needs to be an international push as large as the greenhouse gas reduction pushes for repairability and upgradability, not merely end of life recycling. EOL recycling alone gives companies cover for purposefully bad practices.

      1. DS999 Silver badge

        Re: Some products are expected to display energy ratings

        iPhones rank higher on iFixit's repairability ratings than most Android phones, so maybe you should direct your outage at Samsung, Google and Huawei.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Some products are expected to display energy ratings

          Too bad they won't sell you the parts and prohibit their suppliers from from doing the same. I suggest you check out Louis Rossman on the topic.

          1. DS999 Silver badge

            Re: Some products are expected to display energy ratings

            I'm just quoting iFixit's repairability ratings. Louis Rossman is wants companies to be required to supply every possible part, even some tiny little chip in case someone wants to microsolder it onto a subboard the size of your thumbnail, which is a totally different can of worms.

            1. elaar

              Re: Some products are expected to display energy ratings

              Instead of taking sides, and using the "well X is worse" argument, it would make more sense to accept the issue in hand and agree that all manufacturers need to sort this out.

    2. Drew Scriver

      Re: Some products are expected to display energy ratings

      There's a company that makes high(er) end coffee grinders that puts stickers on the units that read:

      "STOP! Don't Dump It - Fix It!"

      It's designed to be fixed by the consumer. I'm the very happy owner of one of their grinders.

      1. deep_enigma

        Re: Some products are expected to display energy ratings

        Name and shame praise! Help others vote with their wallets!

  2. redpawn Silver badge

    F- it!

    Just sacrifice your retirement for the sake of the economy and buy a new one.

    1. alain williams Silver badge

      Re: F- it!

      Repair it:

      * save money that you can spend on your local economy, not fund USA companies

      * save the planet

      1. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Unhappy

        Re: F- it!

        strangely, i-Things may be one of the biggest violators in this regard.

        LiPo batteries wear out after a few years, usually not that few (3 or so). A relative of mine has an i-Pad, a hand-me-down actually, and it needs a battery. I checked the procedure for repairing it and it involves heating the glue around the screen to separate the halves so you can access it. The batteries ARE available, but the procedure is just as likely to do damage to the unit as allow you to repair it...

        (a battery compartment where you can access it directly would be nice)

        [Unfortunately, sending it in to get it repaired would cost half as much as a new one]

        on a related note, I've repaired laptops a few times, and they are difficult enough to deal with. This is just impossible in my view. I can only see a cracked screen as a result of getting it slightly wrong.

    2. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: F- it!

      It seems 13 people did not get your sarcasm.

  3. HildyJ Silver badge
    Boffin

    Injunctive relief

    While I wish the FTC had better powers to punish companies, they don't, and I can't see legislation passing in the Senate to change this.

    However, they apparently have injunctive relief as an existing option.

    How about starting with an injunction against using unremovable glue?

    1. Alumoi Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: Injunctive relief

      You can always remove the glue. Use a bigger hammer! Apply more heat! Use stronger acids!

      Ah, forget it, this joke will never pass, I'll be downvoted to oblivion.

      1. Version 1.0 Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: Injunctive relief

        The glue is easy to remove ... just charge the battery up and poke a screwdriver through it.

        1. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

          Re: Injunctive relief

          Hopefully post a video on Youtube of the resulting fun.

    2. thejynxed

      Re: Injunctive relief

      Unfortunately the unremovable glue in certain types of devices is an engineering solution to the problem of waterproofing. This is why you can open many phones, for instance, and find screen connectors and the like completely encased in expoxy resin.

      1. SImon Hobson Silver badge

        Re: Injunctive relief

        On the flip side, at a previous job one of the tasks I had was managing the "walkie talkie" radios used in the factory and warehouse. We had some, not the cheapest on the market, but not particularly expensive either - and they were well made.

        I day I was handed one to sort out - it had been dropped in a vat of candle wax ! Once I'd cleaned out the mic and speaker grills, and unstuck the knobs, it worked just fine. It was designed to be completely waterproof, but was easily taken apart to get at it's insides.

        Glue is not needed to be waterproof, it's just one way of doing it which suits the manufacturers as it makes repairs harder and gets them more replacement sales.

        On another occasion I got a radio back that really was beyond repair - it had an argument with a forklift wheel and the forklift won.

        1. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

          Re: Injunctive relief

          We also purchased a pair of walkie-talkies recently.

          What I like about the Motorolas is that you get a battery pack - but you can easily replace said battery pack with four AA batteries.

          Plus USB-compatible charger port. Win.

          1. Shalghar

            Re: Injunctive relief

            Older Alcatel mobiles way before the age of the "smart"phone touchscreeniness also had a battery pack cover that - if you removed the original pack - acted as a battery case for 3 AA batteries.

            I might have one of those - now quite likely defunct - lingering around in one of those way too many compartments, boxes and whatnot containers that seem to multiply erratically like trumbles in Elite.

            On topic of repairability, i have a Blackview bv5900 "outdoor" mobile that - although definitely waterproof * - can be disassembled with a single screwdriver. Spare parts are the real problem, though. All i could find is a replacement screen but the battery and the speaker(box) seem to be non obtaineable. At least i could play the old "two broken equals one working" game with that kind of phone.

            *Waterproofness as well as shockproofness have been unvoluntarily tested several times - although luckily not in the restroom testing facility.

  4. don't you hate it when you lose your account Silver badge

    End of life

    What's the point in repairing kit that is no longer getting software updates? Didn't Samsung just stop support for a 4 years old phone? To me that is planned obsolescence, and totally wrong.

    1. spireite

      Re: End of life

      To be honest, I thought they already had, so I express surprise the S8 made it to 4 years. I'd have put an alternative OS on mine, but LIneage hasn't made it to the S8.

      To me this is a reasonable expectation, 2 years however isn't.

      Of course its all different if you are in Africa or somewhere else where you less financially enabled to upgrade every 2 years, or maybe 4 years. However, the fact is that many people probably don't apply updates to the OS themselves, and I'm sure many still don't.

      The driving factor of death in a mobile is the battery life expectancy falling.....

      1. Duncan Macdonald Silver badge

        Re: End of life

        Batteries should be user replaceable items - if my THL phone of a few years ago could not only have user replaceable batteries but even came with a spare battery in the box why is that no longer possible on most current phones.

        Perhaps for phones pass a law that manufacturers are required to replace batteries with new ones for a fee of not more than $50 with a penalty of having to refund the original list price if they do not do the battery swap.

        1. bombastic bob Silver badge
          Meh

          Re: End of life

          that might be reasonable if you bump it up a bit, to account for the time it takes to change out a battery.

          Keep in mind that just looking at a broken device and determining what is wrong with it might cost more than $50 in the USA (when you factor in costs of labor, time, equipment, number of techs needed to handle the expected demand, and so on).

          Back in the day, TV repair shops had a minimum fee for this reason.

          However, a price cap on battery repair *MIGHT* motivate engineers to make it easier to change the batteries out, in order to save time for the tech doing the replacement and make it cost-effective, and at least 'break even' on the repairs. Profit would be better, of course.

          A plus for the industry: if this only applied to FUTURE devices, they could re-design THEM to be more easily repaired, and THEN use this mandated service as a "new feature" for the new phone/slab/whatever.

          (I'm currently thinking of a case modification in which you simultaneously press pins into 2 or more waterproof holes on the sides of case, where locking hooks are, and then slide it open - this could allow it to remain "thin" while also making it possible to open in a shop [or DYI repair], AND to assemble quickly, and ALSO rework a device that fails in manufacturing or is returned for warranty repair)

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: End of life

        "but LIneage hasn't made it to the S8."

        /e/ (forked from Lineage) not only has a ROM for the S8 but they also sell refurbished S8's that are already flashed for you.

        https://doc.e.foundation/devices/

        I'm considering purchasing one of their refurbished S8's because I love the hardware of my S8 but the version I have does not allow for the bootloader to be unlocked.

        1. Dave K Silver badge

          Re: End of life

          That for me is the biggest issue here. If a manufacturer is going to drop support for a product, they should be required to provide unlock tools for any locked areas of the ROM/bootloader. Of course, no firm will voluntarily do this because they want you to throw it away and buy a new one. Alternatively, locked bootloaders should really be banned on principal. If I've bought a device, why shouldn't I be free to do what I want with it?

          1. thejynxed

            Re: End of life

            Regulating bodies like the US FCC are not exactly keen on unlocked bootloaders in cell phones and things like routers because of the possible ability to tamper with the radio signal strength.

            This hasn't completely stopped people, of course, but it's one of the reasons Samsung implemented e-fuses.

      3. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

        Re: End of life

        Exactly this.

        My Redmi 4A was starting to get a bit wonky regarding battery life. That, plus the small storage space made me upgrade to a Redmi Note 8 with 64Gb RAM.

        If they made it easy to swap out batteries, then things would've been different.

    2. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: End of life

      Planned obsolescence has been a thing for almost 100 years now.

      We are all sheep to be sheared.

  5. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

    Being able

    to do a battery replacement I suspect would be the number 1 thing that people want.

    Perfectly good phone... knacked battery.... 15 mins with a screwdriver and a new battery (from the manufacturer) and hey presto... the phone is good for another 2-3 years.

    Or make them unfixable... the customer has to pay to dispose of it... and then pay for another phone that will last 2-3 years....

    The first one aint gonna make the C suite guys rich..... so the 2nd is the way ahead unless someone stops them.

    1. vtcodger Silver badge

      Re: Being able

      Why 15min? And what's the screwdriver for? On my ancient Nokia 2126, changing out the battery takes 30 seconds and doesn't require any tools. It'd probably be faster with practice. But I don't need to replace the battery all that often.

      Could Apple, Motorola, Samsung et.al. do that if they wished? I'll bet that somewhere in dark, forgotten corners of the ... ehrrr ... campuses, they each have an engineer two who vaguely remembers how to design things like that.

      Of course, before we can have replaceable batteries we probably need to replace all the MBAs in management and the lunatics in marketing. A bag of cabbages from the local market would probably have about the same intelligence and would have a far lower burden rate.

      1. DS999 Silver badge

        Re: Being able

        I never had a phone with a removable battery that didn't get loosy goosy after a year or two, with the battery door / battery falling out at the slightest provocation. I had two Nokia and two Motorola phones back in the 00s, all had that problem. I see the same things on devices that are handled a lot with replaceable batteries, like remote controls, anytime my Tivo remote falls off the couch when I get up or whatever I'm hunting for the door and sometimes one of the batteries.

        No doubt it is POSSIBLE to design products that aren't like this, but when you only need to replace a battery every three years or so, making it take 15 minutes instead of 15 seconds is hardly a major imposition.

        1. Falmari Silver badge

          Re: Being able

          @DS999 “No doubt it is POSSIBLE to design products that aren't like this” not just possible actual. Companies have produced phones that aren’t like you described.

          I am using one about 4 years old and at the time the manufacturer’s flagship phone, USB C charger and wireless charging micro sd slot and with a replaceable battery. I change the battery a few months back, popped the back off, flipped the battery out, dropped a new one in and popped the back on in less than a minute.

          What I find strange is the makers of this phone Microsoft, of glued together Surface PCs fame and who made a complete mess of their mobile strategy, were able to do what Apple, Motorola, Samsung et.al can’t or won’t.

          1. DS999 Silver badge

            Re: Being able

            Is it IP68 rated?

            I care more about not having to worry about my phone getting wet than I do replacing a battery more quickly once every three years (or never, in my case, since three years is the longest I've ever used the same phone)

        2. Shalghar

          Re: Being able

          Nokia, Hagenuk, Sony, Samsung, Motorola and Alcatel mobiles with replaceable batteries never gave me any issue. If necessary i could look after the type and model i used until today.

          Since i am crawling around on and into (partly quite large) machines and machinery for a living, bringing stuff to electrical and electronical life, the occasional drop, wiggle, (mechanical)pressure change in my pocket, and shock is a regular event happening to any equipment i need to have on me.

          As the older SEM52 radios of the Bundeswehr were prone to bad performance and several kinds of failure (especially after some bright spark introduced the organic lithium battery that would lose power when temperatures fell below around 5-7 degress Celsius) my first mobiles were carried around in a magazine pouch, and suffered quite a variety of mechanical abuse.

          (Guess what kind of being insists on me being permanently reachable for whatever reason, no matter my actual situation and no matter how unimportant the "reason" for the call... Yeah, right)

        3. Slef

          Re: Being able

          A small length of insulating tape on the battery cover would save you from that problem on the remote control. Tis called preventative maintenance lol

      2. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Devil

        Re: Being able

        reasons for soldered-in battery:

        * thin profile [people want this]

        * WAY less likely to have the 'flickering' problem that flashlights get when galvanic corrosion appears on the battery terminals [even with gold and silver, dissimilar metals and moisture and electrical charges still present]

        * unlikely for the battery to be easily reversed, which would probably explode it and/or seriously damage board components.

        etc. - there are many good reasons for soldering the battery in place. Then you void the warranty if anyone changes their own battery. But I agree it SHOULD be both possible AND reasonably easy to do so. And cracking the case open should take less than a minute and be repeatable.

        1. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge
          FAIL

          Re: Being able

          As with cameras, back in the day when cell phones had replaceable batteries, they only fit in one way.

        2. DS999 Silver badge

          Re: Being able

          Who is soldering in batteries? Certainly not Apple (who has batteries that are easily removable by pulling on a little strip of tape) or Samsung (who has theirs glued in and requires a heat gun to remove them, but certainly not a soldering iron)

        3. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

          Re: Being able

          I don't care for thickness. I'll sacrifice a few mm of thickness just to have a removable battery.

          Clever engineering can be used to make sure that the battery package is optimized by using the least space possible, to keep it neat and thin.

          Of course we don't want a brick like the Nokia Communicator...

        4. Shalghar

          Re: Being able

          Sounds more like reasons for a proper battery plug instead of those pseudogold plated springs and plates.

          At least you can open the device and wipe the contacts clean, not so much with a soldered battery where this tiny plastic film"cable" wears out and gets brittle or less concuctive after some time.

  6. A random security guy Bronze badge

    Battery and other realities

    Not supporting AAPL. I remember when the iPhone first came out and we found out through AAPL engineers (yeah, they weren’t locked down so hard at that time) that a major reason they glued the battery was the drop test.

    I was working on another phone product and we all nodded our head; we knew that our phone’s battery covers and many times the batteries would go flying off.

    Moreover the contacts would not after some time and that was pure headache.

    I can change iPhone batteries in roughly 5 minutes; who says nerds can’t impress girls.

    In iPhone 12 it seems that cameras are paired so you can’t swap cameras.

    TouchID is another area where any damage means you are not going to be able to use it for anything other than a push button.

    Waterproofing is another reason you have to glue down components.

    Most people have dropped something in the water. Dropping a $1200 phone in the toilet is not fun.

    So yeah, it is a good goal to make repairability a high priority. But it may not be that easy.

    1. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge

      Re: Battery and other realities

      "So yeah, it is a good goal to make repairability a high priority. But it may not be that easy."

      Yea, we wouldn't want to knock the gross margins down by 1%.

  7. spold Silver badge

    Waterproofing and battery compartments

    ....standard screws and an O-ring should work well. Easy to isolate the compartment from the rest of the phone.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    IFixed it

    I’ve fixed my aging iPod Classic a number of times.

    All of the parts are readily available.

    New sound jack, new battery, new hard drive, etc.

    Heck, I even replaced the motor in our old Dyson.

    YouTube is your repair friend.

    1. elaar

      Re: IFixed it

      Because those are older devices. Try using a credit card to remove an old cracked screen from a panel, that's fun!

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Batteries in standard sizes!!!

    regulators could/should stop musk^w companies from creating yet another battery housing every phone iteration.

    Ditto for tablets, laptops, e-cars etc

    PS: electric cars with swap-in-out batteries would 'solve' :

    1. charge point/distribution issues, and

    2. renewable energy storage (repurposed fuel/service stations holding/charging said batteries).

  10. hairydog

    Merceded

    It's not just IT kit. A Mercedes car has loads of parts that can't be replaced without "coding in" the new bits. And the coding equipment isn't available.

    To make matters worse, components aren't available. My car needs a new DVD drive head for the navigation system.

    It'd probably cost a few quid, but you can't buy one. You can only buy the whole unit, which has to be coded in on the 'Star' system. The £3 head would cost well over £2000 to fix.

    1. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

      Re: Merceded

      So that means you'll either have to buy a completely new Mercedes, or make-do with a Bluetooth speaker paired to your phone for music etc...

      I have been eyeballing the integrated radio consoles in modern cars. They sure look neat and all that, but they'll be a ballache to replace should Mr Murphy drop in for an unwanted visit.

      The older style of radios are easier to replace if not worth repairing.

      1. Shalghar

        Re: Merceded

        Repairing in car entertainment electronics is not only a pain with mercedes. VW, Opel/Vauxhall, BMW.... any manufacturer has "quality assurance" traps and quirks built in.

        Worse even if the screens or other parts of the whole system are integrated in the whole console with the usual individually different measurements.

        In the beginning of this kind of vendor lock in, adapter electronics were available so that your original built in audio amplifier would think that your audio signal would come from an "appropriate" source.

        Audi tops it off. Never ever change the car battery without making sure the voltage is buffered or your steering position will dealign as the unbuffered steering has incremental sensors but not absolute positions nor any kind of the classic track zero sense. If you manage to change the battery, you will still have to go through the process of finding a garage to make your car grudgingly accept the new part or try less appropriate means to silence the electronic nagging.

        Best of all is of course Siemens TIA portal. This well refined programming environment is incompatible with different versions of the original parts databases, so keeping a collection of VM on your laptop is mandatory if any kind of hardware combination "issues" arise.

    2. PTW
      WTF?

      Re: Merceded

      And Citroen, fuel injectors are coded to the ECU, the exact same engine in a Peugeot they are not.

      On the C5 X7 you can't even check the oil level for the suspension without connecting to the ECU and depressurising the system.

      Thankfully knock off Chinese OBD-II interfaces and software are available.

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