back to article EU proposes regulations for tablet battery life, spare parts

The European Union is proposing legislation which will make manufacturers of tablets and smartphones offer longer-life batteries and spare parts for at least five years after the model is removed from the market. The regulations for "laying down ecodesign requirements for mobile phones, cordless phones and slate tablets" will …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Please do it.

    I'd love to see this part, if nothing else "the availability of operating system version upgrades"

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Please do it.

      Just came here to post the same.

      I've got a 6 year old Lenovo tablet that is still perfectly serviceable, except it can't run the latest Android, and so can't run the latest versions of apps like VLC, despite it's video handling being well up to it.

      Don't need any spare parts, just the ability to run a newer version of Android.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Please do it.

      I'd gladly settle for security fixes as a start.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Please do it.

        Unintended consequences.

        This increases the costs of legitimate devices so much that consumers end up buying no name Aliexpress specials that ignore these rules.

        1. ThatOne Silver badge

          Re: Please do it.

          > the costs of legitimate devices

          It depends on what you call "legitimate devices". It's true for Veblen goods from Apple or Samsung, but there are perfectly usable tablets from well-known, serious companies, which are cheap enough to be able to handle a 5% increase without becoming prohibitively priced. Especially considering their new increased lifespan.

          The main problem here is greed and the resulting planned obsolescence: Just make the batteries only last a year, and glue them to the device so the normal user can't change them: Profit! The message from the EU is "Be less greedy, or else", so I guess if the manufacturers just take that as an excuse to raise their prices, they will discover what "else" means.

          1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: Please do it.

            >It depends on what you call "legitimate devices"

            A manufacturer that existed last year and will exist next year, Lenovo or Dell.

            Not saying that Apple wrote these laws, but it is likely to drive all the big name Android tablet makers out of the market. How many Lenovo/Samsung tablets is a store going to sell for 200€ when another no-name landfill Android tablet is 50€ ?

            1. doublelayer Silver badge

              Re: Please do it.

              "How many Lenovo/Samsung tablets is a store going to sell for 200€ when another no-name landfill Android tablet is 50€ ?"

              They're selling them now. They could have gone with the cheap landfill Chinese brands any time in the last decade, and they mostly chose not to. Why should they do so any more now? Of course, that hasn't stopped there being similarly landfill non-Chinese brands that end up in those stores, but if I want the cheapest, all-corners-cut options, I still have to go to a site like AliExpress.

            2. ThatOne Silver badge

              Re: Please do it.

              > How many Lenovo/Samsung tablets is a store going to sell for 200€ when another no-name landfill Android tablet is 50€ ?

              First, Lenovo has some really cheap yet capable tablets (got one). Even with a 5% price increase they would remain affordable and still way under $200 (mine did cost around $110 back then).

              Second, I know somebody who won such a $50 tablet in some fair. The tablet lasted about a day, so if you actually paid for it, this is an error you'll only make once. For the price of two tablets each lasting one day you can buy yourself a brand one, lasting several years...

            3. gandalfcn Silver badge

              Re: Please do it.

              Not saying that "insert your favourite target of your bigotry" wrote these laws

        2. doublelayer Silver badge

          Re: Please do it.

          Or maybe it forces those legitimate manufacturers to put in a little effort in automating the security update lifecycle or going to Google and saying "If you don't fix the design that made this process difficult*, our business will get killed, so get moving or expect to lose a lot of OEM licenses". Either is fine with me.

          * It's on both Google and the manufacturers here, and either can do the work it takes to push out those update packages. I don't care who does it, and if it doesn't happen, I'm happy if both parties get penalized for failing to do what every other operating system manages.

          1. Martyn Welch

            Re: Please do it.

            Google have been working for quite a while to try and address this. I suspect the sticking point is either the phone manufacturers or the carriers. I don't think Google wield a huge amount of power here, the code for Android is mostly open source and there's probably a limit how much they can lean on manufacturers with the play store etc.

            1. doublelayer Silver badge

              Re: Please do it.

              Google has tons of power. They can prevent people from making phones with any other version of Android on them, thus killing competition with Google's software and services. They've used that to tremendous effect. They can and have forced manufacturers to include all of Google's crapware on devices. They can and have broken a lot of Android features, supposedly in the open source code, so they can come back and fix them in their proprietary stuff. They have redesigned the system layers of the OS several times to make updates even less dependent on anything custom. And yet, they can't do anything about security updates?

              Here's how they do it if they ever start caring:

              Licenses for Google Play Services will only be granted if you promise to update the licensed device on at least the following schedule. Security updates will be released monthly, at most fifteen days after the update is made available, for the first seven years of device life. After that point, they may be released every quarter, at most 45 days after being made available. Feature releases will be released within 180 days of availability for at least five years after device is released. Failure to follow these requirements will be a breech of contract and will result in a penalty of $35 per device sold. Also, you won't be getting licensed again until you comply.

              Or, if they don't like the strong-arm tactics, they could make the security updates portable and cut out the manufacturer. After all, I don't need to go to Dell's website to install a Windows patch or get a new kernel version for Linux. I get those from the people who patched the problem, or at farthest, the package maintainers for my distribution who didn't have to go to the manufacturer either.

            2. gandalfcn Silver badge

              Re: Please do it.

              You trust G00gle? Really? I've got a nice bridge to sell you.

    3. unimaginative

      Re: Please do it.

      Ideally, also make it possible for users to change the OS. Not many will do it, but there is potential to extend for far longer. I use laptops for a decade or more this way. My oldest is 14 years old and sees intermittent use for trying things out.

      Just wait until people have to junk cars because the software is no longer supported - or even having to pay a fortune for upgrades because the car is out of warranty.

  2. alain williams Silver badge

    "spare parts for at least five years"

    1) this is not long enough, many devices are easily usable for longer. 10 years would be good

    2) "from the date of the device's introduction to the market". No: the date should be from when the device was sold new in a shop

    1. The Dogs Meevonks Silver badge

      Re: "spare parts for at least five years"

      It depends on the spec

      I still have an nVidia K1 Shield tablet from 2015 that had several OS updates that stopped on Android 7. I also have a Shield TV box from 2017 that still gets updates.

      The reason according to nVidia is that the tablet only has 2gb of ram and simply isn't enough, even though it has exactly the same chipset as the shield tv box (K1)

      The battery is showing signs of wear now... It can't last a full day, the wifi drains it like crazy. So I only use it as a kindle device now... Especially as a lot of apps are deprecated for the OS now.

      I've not needed to buy another tablet, because my phone screen is fairly large and has a much wider/taller aspect ratio than most... I also can't find a tablet that's anywhere near as good as the shield was for a similar price.

    2. steelpillow Silver badge

      Re: "spare parts for at least five years"

      "2) "from the date of the device's introduction to the market". No: the date should be from when the device was sold new in a shop"

      I'd settle for the date on which the manufacturer withdraws the product. Can't really blame them if an ancient relic bounces around the world's bankruptcy warehouses for half a decade.

    3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: "spare parts for at least five years"

      "2) "from the date of the device's introduction to the market". No: the date should be from when the device was sold new in a shop"

      No, the clock on spare parts availability should start running on the day they announce they are no longer making the device.

    4. ARGO

      Re: "spare parts for at least five years"

      You may be pleased to hear the draft regulation actually says this: "for a minimum period from one month after the date of placement on the market until 5 years after the date of end of placement on the market"

      Which is rather different from 5 years from launch.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: "spare parts for at least five years"

        Oh, that's great news! Shame the article missed the vital point :-(

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The trouble with this sort of "lawmaking by non-technical committee" is that it leads to things like the requirement that all cars must carry a set of replacement bulbs for the lights, but completely ignores the way that some manufacturers require major dismantling of the front of the car to get at the bulb fittings.

    1. Headley_Grange Silver badge

      I agree. Somebody messed up regulation once so we should never have any new regulation again.

      Just out of interest, in which EU countries is it actually a legal requirement to carry a bulb kit?

      1. Dr_N
        Black Helicopters

        Not in France it isn't. But people (especially Brits) have been led to believe it is. Probably by BigBulb.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Replacement light bulbs are not mandatory in France, but the driver must be able to replace a defective bulb immediately, or risk a fine.

          I've never heard of anybody being actually fined for that, though, so it's hardly a pressing issue. If it became so, I'm sure that car manufacturers would start being asked why they keep making it so difficult to replace lights...

          1. ThatOne Silver badge

            > the driver must be able to replace a defective bulb immediately

            So I need to carry an inspection pit in my toolbox? I don't think the technology for that exists already.

            1. Dr_N

              Or, for newer cars, you'd need to keep 2 LED headlamp units in the boot.

              At €1000 a pop.

              I think we can all see it's a nonsense.

              1. Headley_Grange Silver badge

                Dippy Cops

                It's nonsense until you're stood by the side of the road trying to explain to a French cop. There was a story many, many years ago about a British motorcyclist in France who had a bike with twin headlights. By design, on dip it only used one light but on main beam it used both. He was stopped and fined by the cops because they said that one of his lights didn't work.

                1. Dr_N

                  Re: Dippy Cops

                  How would having a spare lamp have helped in this apocryphal corner case?

                  If he couldn't "fix" at the side of the road they would have impounded/immobilised his bike. Which the Gendarmes have the power to do in such cases.

                  1. Mike_R

                    Re: Dippy Cops

                    The law in Israel on this subject is:

                    1) You are obliged to carry a spare bulb kit.

                    2) If stopped by a cop for a missing light *The policeman is obliged to help you repair the missing light*

                    Being stopped for a missing light-bulb happens very seldom now...

        2. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

          There was an article in a French motoring magazine where they interviewed various gendarmerie officers, and few of them knew the exact rules. Most thought that it was a legal requirement, although you're quite correct that the law in France merely requires that the vehicle lights must operate correctly, and you can be fined if you cannot make them do so. It's a rather ambiguous rule.

          1. Dr_N
            Black Helicopters

            Potentially ambiguous perhaps.

            But it is absolutely clear that a Gendarme cannot ticket you for not having a box of bulbs in your car.

            Which is what cross-channel ferry companies, car-part shops and motoring organisations in the UK try and intimate.

            Guess what they all sell? (It's BigBulb!!!)

      2. OhForF' Silver badge

        As far as i know Croatia and Slovenia have a requirement to keep a spare lamp set in your car - for those lamps you can change on your own.

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      "the way that some manufacturers require major dismantling of the front of the car to get at the bulb fittings"

      Well, if we're into establishing right to repair by regulation there's an obvious solution to that one.

    3. unimaginative

      Its also a problem for people creating niche devices that sell in small numbers. Its reasonable to expect Samsung or Apple to do this, but not Pine64 or ClockworkPi.

  4. The Dogs Meevonks Silver badge

    500 Full charges isn't enough

    Most phones these days can't even do more than 24-30hrs on a full charge with average use. 500 charges is basically 18 months.

    They need to be 1000 at least.

    For those not aware... Motorola do offer 3yrs of security updates and at least 2 OS updates on a lot of their phones now.

    I've had 2 OS updates on mine (on 11) and am now just about at the end of the security updates... Perhaps 1 or 2 left. I've owned the phone for almost 3yrs and it's still working just fine, battery life with light use is good for almost 2 days.

    It's worth checking them out, it's basically a vanilla android phone for half the price of a pixel whilst being at least 3/4+ of the spec of a device that costs 2 or 3 times as much.

    1. steelpillow Silver badge

      Re: 500 Full charges isn't enough

      Bit like cars - tweaked performance in the lab does not count, there needs to be a standard "urban cycle".

      1. ThatOne Silver badge

        Re: 500 Full charges isn't enough

        > there needs to be a standard "urban cycle"

        True, but that would be very hard to establish given we all have extremely different usage patterns for our smartphones and tablets. Some use them extensively all day (with Bluetooth and WiFi on) while some only switch them on for a couple hours a day, and it's even worse for tablets.

        It's true batteries should last longer, much longer, but I guess there is only so much you can do with current technology, so batteries should be replaceable (now there is an innovative idea!), allowing heavy users to replace them if needed.

        Oh no that means my smartphone will need to be fat and unfashionable! Kill me!

        1. Old Used Programmer

          Re: 500 Full charges isn't enough

          On tablets, I'm an outlier on that. I have 4 7" Lenovo tablets that get extensive use...3 days out of the year. The rest of the year, they get the charge and updates checked once a month. 500 charges should last about 30 years...

          1. ThatOne Silver badge

            Re: 500 Full charges isn't enough

            > I have 4 7" Lenovo tablets that get extensive use...3 days out of the year.

            Same here, I actually use my tablet only when on business trips or vacation, and I don't do either very often. I just power it up every couple months for updates. Still, battery isn't what it used to be a couple years ago. Still totally usable, but clearly weaker.

      2. The Dogs Meevonks Silver badge

        Re: 500 Full charges isn't enough

        Just bought an electric assist bike to help reduce my use of the car... Place I'm moving to in a couple of weeks puts an Aldi, Lidl, ASDA, Iceland, Hme Bargains & B & M within 2 miles of the house. Switching to shopping 2-3 days at a time and only buying what's needed. No need for a weekly 12m round trip to a larger supermarket and can do it on the bike.

        Supposed to have a 40 mile range on an 8.8ah battery. Real world use is about 35-37 miles...

        Battery is warrantied for 2yrs or 200 charge cycles. In 8 weeks, I've done 10 charges and 350 miles. If I keep that up and assume half the use over winter... 200 charges is about 2yrs worth of use.

        New batteries are about £300... oooff

    2. Version 1.0 Silver badge

      Re: 500 Full charges isn't enough

      There has been a little research that suggests that building Lithium batteries from recycled materials means they last very much longer then a battery just made out of fresh dug up lithium.

    3. DS999 Silver badge

      Unintended consequences

      Current lithium battery technology does not permit 1000 full charges to be possible.

      If you legislate that, they'll artificially limit how much of the battery's capacity you can use so that it will still be at 83% of that limited capacity after the 1000th charge.

      Is that what you want?

      1. AdamWill

        Re: Unintended consequences

        Actually, yes. We keep being told that it's best to only charge batteries to 80%, but that's a freaking pain in the arse to do manually when you just want to plug your phone in and leave it (maybe overnight), and at least on android you need to be rooted for an app to just cut off the charging(!).

        So yeah, actually, I'd quite like a phone which reserved some capacity like electric car batteries do, to make it last for longer.

      2. TheThiefMaster

        Re: Unintended consequences

        There are alternative Lithium battery chemistries with better lifespan. A lot of larger lithium batteries are LiFePO4, which has slightly less energy density than polymer cells common in tablets (14% according to a note on Wikipedia) but a life of 3000-10000 charge cycles.

        The density of all lithium battery chemistries has been improving over time, so a small drop in capacity can probably be developed past, given time. Not to mention it holds its capacity better, so after a couple of years of use it would have a better battery life than a currently common lithium cobolt polymer battery anyway.

        As a bonus, LiFePO4 is safer as it doesn't have the same risk of thermal runaway as a lithium cobolt battery. So there would be fewer device fires.

  5. Binraider Silver badge

    Right-to-repair all over again. How many spares does a tablet reseller have to hang onto, and for how long?

    Better solutions exist in the form of standardised components that work on more than one model; so the spares stock can be periodically replenished and works going forwards across models.

    You would have thought IEEE, BSI or similar could come up with standards for certain interchangable parts; like we have standards for wall plugs, data busses and so forth.

    In motherboard, screen territory of course you have no chance of standardising. Back to problems of holding qty. and duration. Maybe also failure modes analysis, how many boards will survive to year 3, 5; and are your engineers any good at working that out? (It's a hard problem, especially for electronics).

    1. Headley_Grange Silver badge

      Standard components won't work because any fule kno that no one will ever buy a device that's thicker than the device it's replacing.

      1. M.V. Lipvig Silver badge

        Wrong-o. I look for a hefty phone because those paper thin ones, I can't hold in my monster-sized hands. Even then, I'll get a nice, thick, heavy protective cover for it so I have something to hold onto. My current phone with case is almost half an inch thick, or in right-pondian is about a centimeter thick. I wish it was a little thicker.

        So far, my battery has lasted about 3 years, and lasts a couple of days between charges if necessary.

    2. ThatOne Silver badge

      > Better solutions exist in the form of standardised components that work on more than one model

      Like components on PC computers. Problem is PCs can do it because there is lots of space to accommodate all kind of discrete part assemblies, whereas inside a smartphone, especially one you want to be as small and thin as possible, all those discrete parts would need to end up soldered on the same motherboard... So no easy swapping the processor or the memory or the graphics, since they're all just chips soldered on the same motherboard.

      (Yes, I know what you are alluding to. It wasn't a big success, was it. Besides, if those individual "bricks" are to become a standard, who would decide on the specifications? Many/most would consider it as too restrictive ("My ultra-high end pro camera doesn't fit in the standardized dimension you have decided for cameras!")

      1. The Dogs Meevonks Silver badge

        Who decided it had to be small and thin? It wasn't consumers... they have always wanted longer battery life... old phones got smaller and smaller until they decided screens needed to be larger and larger... batteries went from a week between charges to occasionally twice a day.

        It's not the consumer who wants it... it's companies deciding we want it and with no alternative... they get to say... See, we were right

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Doro and Nokia are still making featurephones with week long battery life. The consumers don't seem to have given them much of a market share though.

          1. Binraider Silver badge

            The last two phones I’ve had are both Nokias. Kinda weird considering I am on the side of ‘‘destroy Microsoft’ - their phone subsidiary produces good stuff.

        2. ThatOne Silver badge

          > Who decided it had to be small and thin? It wasn't consumers...

          True, it was marketing, but the sheep consumers readily fell for it, and now do indeed demand their devices to be paper-thin.

          Looks are the most important thing for a vast majority of people, and marketing knows that. Never mind the handful of geeks who care about battery life, SD cards, headphone jacks and other geeky things, the vast majority just wants to look sharp and cool while updating their Facebook profile in [hot beverages franchise].

      2. NATTtrash

        It isn't as bad as you make it look to be.

        These guys seem to make it work. Pitty they don't do AMD (yet) though...

    3. The Dogs Meevonks Silver badge

      It kinda already is... same chipsets, same cpu/gpu, same cameras used across multiple models/ranges.

      It's the method used in the automotive industry... can't find a part for an obscure car that wasn't normally sold in your country... Bet you can find the same part in use on models they did sell.

      It's partly how I kept an old Mazda MX6 running, buy figuring out that you could retro fit parts from other cars... Like upgrading the brakes to bigger discs & callipers from a mazda 3/6 MPS or RX8... just needed a bracket made and had to upgrade to 18" rims if you hadn't already.

    4. AdamWill

      But...there's nothing in the legislation which says they can't do that, is there? In fact, standardising more parts and reusing them between models would be the obvious approach to take to make complying with the legislation easier, and probably what manufacturers would start doing if it was introduced.

      Which I'm sure is intentional. It's a smart drafting approach, really. Encourage part reuse and interchangeability without getting bogged down in the weeds of trying to mandate it.

  6. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

    Typical government

    Why not cut it down to the simpler idea

    The part that wears out in one of todays phones/tablets is the battery

    Pass a law saying that a typical person, armed with a small crosshead screwdriver, should be able to remove said battery and put a new one in.

    Thats it.

    Because I have a tablet and phone that are knackered because I cant do that...... both are glued + bonded and in the case of of the phone, everything has to be de-glued/removed before you can get at the battery.

    1. heyrick Silver badge

      Re: Typical government

      My S9's battery is nothing like it used to be, but it's coming on to four years old and daily charging.

      However, the AMOLED is also showing quite a distinctive amount of screen burn in. Open a white screen, and you can clearly see the on-screen keyboard and the layout of Firefox's tool bars, not to mention the icons that are always present up at the top (clock, battery, etc).

      Neither can be replaced without a lot of effort. It's not a big deal, I get a very cheap phone every two years as part of my contract (still use the S9 when I'm out, the replacement Mi 10T is for making videos and watching Netflix) but it does seem a bit of a shame that, these two things aside, the rest of the phone still functions.

      In my smartphone-owning time, one of the main impediments isn't so much the battery as the lack of firmware updates and security fixes. My first two phones were Android 2.something back when 4 was just being released. I tried one a couple of years ago and it was useless. No SNI so couldn't do many websites, and Play just completely failed. But even if it didn't, what app works with an OS that old? The phone itself has a spec roughly comparable to the freebie tablet that I have that is running something like Android 11 Go version.

      Therefore, I'm really not sure if we should be mandating replacement hardware, or replacement firmware. Both would be nice, but we're only just getting out of the idea of designed obsolescence....

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Start with your own European Companies

    What about making sure that EU companiies (especially the Germans, who are supposed to be green) allow us to replace rechargable batteries in things like toothbrushes and shavers.

    1. OhForF' Silver badge

      Re: Start with your own European Companies

      Are you talking about Braun?

      Quoting the article:

      From 1984 until 2007, Braun was a wholly owned subsidiary of The Gillette Company, which had purchased a controlling interest in the company in 1967. Braun is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Procter & Gamble, which acquired Gillette in 2005.

      I was young when Braun stopped being a german company :)

    2. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: Start with your own European Companies

      I'm not sure what you're asking, given that this would cover everyone, including European companies. If you actually mean that it should start by only covering European companies and not others, then count me out. Cover everyone, and let the benefits spread.

  8. DS999 Silver badge

    15 parts must be carried?

    They don't say which ones, so I guess the companies get to decide? They could include spacers or dummy panels inside the device to reach that count of "15".

    The only parts that matter for phones and tablets are the battery and the display. Yeah you can whine what about the USB-C port or what about this one phone I had where the wifi died, but they aren't going to socket those parts and make them replaceable without soldering. It is mostly pointless making parts available for 5+ year old devices that require disassembly and soldering, because 99% of customers will have to pay someone to fix it for them and it just isn't going to be worth paying someone $100 for labor and parts to repair a five year old phone, even one that cost $1000 new. For ones that cost $300 new it isn't worth paying someone $100 to fix them the day the warranty expires.

    1. ARGO

      Re: 15 parts must be carried?

      There is a list in the regulation linked from the article. It's a slightly weird selection though, and only adds up to 15 if you have more than one item in some of the categories:

      • battery;

      • back cover or back cover assembly;

      • front-facing camera assembly;

      • rear-facing camera assembly;

      • external connectors;

      • buttons;

      • microphone;

      • speaker(s);

      • hinge assembly;

      • mechanical display folding mechanism;

      • mechanical display rolling mechanism;

      • display assembly;

      • charger

  9. Tessier-Ashpool

    Reliability of product

    Good idea. If this mandates critical security updates to keep your gadget working “reliably” I’m all for it.

    I see that Apple have recently provided such an update for older iGadgets (I guess it must be a pretty serious bug fix). But taking the guesswork out of your purchase can only be a good thing for the customer.

  10. Tron Silver badge

    Won't work.

    Your battery may last longer and there will be spare parts, but the new operating system upgrade won't work on your kit, and due to the sudden discovery of a very serious bug, you will be urged to upgrade to a new device that runs it, or foreign hackers will target you, stealing your money/wife/identity and the sky will fall in. The tech industry been doing this for decades and have got it down to a fine art.

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