Is Apple Finally Clueing In That Non-Repairable Devices Are A Bad Idea? – The ‘Book Mystique

We can always hope. 9To5Mac’s Mark Gurman reported last week that according to unnamed insider sources, Apple’s retail stores will soon be performing common repairs the iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c, including display replacement, as well as volume buttons, the vibrating motor, the rear camera, and speaker system, on site, meaning that they will no longer need to fully replace iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c units with screen damage or other problems.

If this rumor is accurate, it would amount to a small step in the right direction after years of broad jump leaps in the wrong one regarding device repairability rather than replacement. Apple products have historically not been paragons of repairability, beginning with the original compact Macs in the late ’80s, although there have been a Few notable exceptions, such as desktop and AIO Mac and Performa models in the mid-90s that had their logic boards and expansion slots in a quick-open pull-out drawer, and the G3 Series PowerBooks sold from 1998 through 2000 that were relatively easy to open up for repairs or upgrades, with their CPUs conveniently mounted on easily removable processor daughtercards, and hard drive replacement a leisurely 20 minute job once you’re practiced.

However, Apple’s commitment to component repair and replacement has always been nothing if not inconsistent. For example those easy-open G3 Series PowerBooks sold alongside the original iBook models that were by contrast a nightmare to open up. In 2009 Apple started making MacBooks with internal batteries glued to the unibody enclosures, making them essentially non-replaceable by users. Soon began came a phasing in of RAM hard-soldered to the logic board and likewise non-replaceable as well as non-upgradable beginning with the original MacBook Air. iPads always have been all but hermetically sealed units with no user-serviceable components inside, glued-in batteries, and hardware upgrades out of the question, making them a discardable commodity after their original service life runs out. Apple’s obsession with ultra thin form factors has been partly behind this trend.

Consequently, in that context, Apple’s reportedly shipping replacement parts, training manuals and machines to calibrate replacement screens to its stores in order to authorize and facilitate on-site hardware repairs represents something of a welcome philosophical shift. However, it will be a long road back.

The iPad Air, for instance, earned a two out of 10 rating for repairability from iFixit. Although the iPhone 5s’ rating is a lot better — six out of 10 — it still lags behind competitors like the Samsung Galaxy S4, which scores eight out of 10. The latest 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display revision released last month actually dropped from its predecessor’s two out of ten rating to the same miserable one out of ten as its 15-inch sibling has had all along – the lowest repairability rating iFixIt has ever awarded, a dubious distinction now shared incidentally by Microsoft’s Surface tablet PCs

“That could change, though, if Apple’s repair business gets some traction environmentally activist repair-guide publisher iFixit’s founder and CEO Kyle Wiens says. “Hopefully, the amount of money they make off repairs will influence their product design so they’ll make these things more repairable.”

Speaking of which, with the Christmas season approaching, our addiction to electronic gadgetry is a major and growing contributor to the global waste problem. Waste volumes rise some 30 percent in Canada the week following Christmas according to an article published October 30 in the journal Nature, by Daniel Hoornweg, Perinaz Bhada-Tata and Chris Kennedy.

E-Waste Facts reports that in 2008, the U.S. generated 3.16 million tons of e-waste, of which only 430,000 tons or 13.6% were recycled, according to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) metrics, with 20–50 million tons of e-waste generated worldwide every year. While e-waste reportedly comprises only a relatively modest two percent of U.S. landfill volumes, it is responsible for 70% of overall toxic waste, including mercury, lead, cadmium, arsenic, beryllium and brominated flame retardants — the latter which when burned at low temperatures create additional toxins, such as cancer-causing halogenated dioxins and furans – some of the most poisonous substances known. The EPA estimates that only 15-20% of the e-waste stream of some 400 million electronic units discarded annually is recycled, the rest going directly into landfills and incinerators. With 300 million computers and 1 billion cellphones produced annually, volumes are expected to continue growing by some 8 percent per year indefinitely.

Manufacturers of these devices must assume some of the responsibility for redress. Companies like Apple and Microsoft like to project images of themselves as and environmentally aware and responsible corporate citizens, but the latest halo products those companies hope will find their way under Christmas trees this year — the iPad Air and Surface 2 tablet computers respectively — are rated by iFixIt as being virtually unrepairable. What’s needed, according to iFixIt’s Wiens, is to reduce electronic waste by making electronic devices easier to repair and teaching people to repair their own gear. That’s a worthy initiative, but it likely won’t happen without consumer engagement and pressure.

Many people confronted with a lifeless battery opt to toss out the device and move on. Kyle Wiens’ iFixIt colleague carli cites EPA estimates that 2.37 million tons of electronic products were eligible for end-of-life management in 2009, and of these products, only 25% were collected for recycling, the other three-quarters becoming part of the e-waste stream of some 400 million electronic units discarded annually.

It runs counter to common sense and environmental responsibility to market battery-powered devices that don’t allow users to replace the batteries quickly and easily. That goes for computers, tablets, smartphones and lesser devices. We do ourselves no favors by passively settling for expensive electronics with batteries that can’t be removed and replaced. iFixIt’s carli notes that these products might look great, but when it comes to batteries, recycling, and reuse, there are big problems.

In Kyle Wiens’ vision, an ideal world would be one in which technicians would continue to repair, salvage, and refurbish old hardware that would move on from owner to owner rather than being thrown in the trash, which is why he’s eager to promote hardware that lasts and call out products that don’t. “Its critically important that we fix things when they break,” he maintains, urging consumers to demand products that aren’t just light and thin, but can also stand the test of time, because our future depends on it.

iFixIt’s carli notes that in a perfect world we would have devices designed from scratch to support battery replacement and that are sold with clear instructions on how to replace a dead battery (or ideally any broken part). This could radically cut down on the volume of electronic products choking our landfills, accounting for as much as 40% of the lead found there.

The fundamental problem is philosophical, or, viewed more cynically, a business strategy affecting how electronics products are imagined and designed. To wit: planned obsolescence. carli contends that if you own an electronic device, its battery should be yours to change — whether its an alarm clock, an e-reader, or an iPad — and that consumers should have the right to access information that will make their electronic gadgets more efficient and economical. And although corporations of course prefer us to purchase new items to replace our electronics every year, it’s simply not ethical or financially viable to ditch our stuff when the newer model debuts.

An impractical ideal? No way. My late 13 2008 Unibody MacBook has an identical form factor to the current 13″ znon-Retina MacBook Pro, and it has a user-replaceable battery, unlike its Pro-designated successor models, with which battery replacement requires a major teardown. In a more cutting edge context, the BlackBerry Z10 is a modern, slim device with a battery that’s a simple to remove and replace — an object lesson to its competitors, notably the iPhone.

It’s time electronic device consumers read the riot act to Apple and other slimness-obsessed device manufacturers on this issue, demanding devices designed with disassembly and ease of repair or upgrading in mind. carli notes that the Germans are out in front in addressing this issue, with the President of the German Federal Environment Agency publicly backing a ban on built-in batteries.

In Kyle Wiens’ vision, an ideal world would be one in which technicians would continue to repair, salvage, and refurbish old hardware that would move on from owner to owner rather than being thrown in the trash, which is why he’s eager to promote hardware that lasts and call out products that don’t. “Its critically important that we fix things when they break,” he maintains, urging consumers to demand products that aren’t just light and thin, but can also stand the test of time, because our future depends on it.

Wiens’ iFixIt colleague carli notes that in a perfect world we would have devices designed from scratch to support battery replacement and that are sold with clear instructions on how to replace the dead battery (or ideally any broken part). This could radically cut down on the volume of electronic products choking our landfills, accounting for as much as 40% of the lead found there.

The fundamental problem is philosophical, or, viewed more cynically, a business strategy affecting how electronics products are imagined and designed. To wit: planned obsolescence. carli contends that if you own an electronic device, its battery should be yours to change—whether its an alarm clock, an e-reader, or an iPad—and that consumers should have the right to access information that will make their electronic gadgets more efficient and economical. And although corporations of course prefer us to purchase new items to replace our electronics every year, it’s simply not ethical or financially viable to ditch our stuff when the newer model debuts.

An impractical ideal? No way. My late 13 2008 Unibody MacBook has an identical form factor to the current 13″ znon-Retina MacBook Pro, and it has a user-replaceable battery, unlike its Pro-designated successor models, with which battery replacement requires a major teardown. In a more cutting edge context, the BlackBerry Z10 is a modern, slim device with a battery that’s simple to remove and replace — an object lesson to its competitors, notably the iPhone.

It’s time electronic device consumers read the riot act to Apple and other slimness-obsessed device manufacturers on this issue, demanding devices designed with disassembly and ease of repair or upgrading in mind. carli notes that the Germans are out in front in addressing this issue, with the President of the German Federal Environment Agency publicly backing a ban on built-in batteries.

Nor does recycling give us a free pass. Recycling managed by monopolist concerns whose main interest is meeting simple recycling targets for a fixed fee, could result in an expensive system with relatively small environmental benefit. A multilateral concern aimed at maximizing profit and reuse across the life cycle presents a more promising picture. However, at best only metals are usually recovered while the high-tech components and plastics that take so much energy to make are destroyed. On the other hand, reselling or upgrading a computer results in five to 20 times greater energy savings than recycling. “Extending the life of a computer is the most effective way to reduce its environmental impact” comments Computers and the Environment co-editor Eric Williams.

The current crop of MacBooks and MacBook Pros are, thin, lightweight, sleek, lightning fast, and more powerful and feature-packed than ever. A whole new dimension in the portable Mac experience, really. However, they’re hard to fix, and when it can cost more than $1,000 for a display screen repair, it simply makes no economic sense to spend that kind of money on repairing a computer that has a used market value of, say $1,200, when you can buy the latest new 11.6” MacBook Air for $999.00. And even if the machine proves as reliable as an anvil (as all of my Apple portables have been over the past fifteen years save for one exception), after three years or so, its performance will pale to weak pastel compared with the latest offerings, and its residual resale value melt away substantially.

As much as I love Apple laptops, I absolutely deplore Apple’s attempts to make its computers and other devices locked-down sealed units, and agree with Kyle Wiens’ declaration that “If you can’t fix it, you don’t own it…. It’s time to take a stand!” Indeed it is. With two 13+ year old PowerBook G3 Series Pismos still in active service, and my newest Mac currently being the late 2008 MacBook, I’m living the philosophy, but getting longer than the typical two or three years out of a computer system is about more than just enhancing value for money spent and lowering total cost of ownership.

A study by the United Nations University Zero Emissions Forum in Tokyo published in a book entitled Computers and the Environment, found that fuels used to make one desktop computer weigh over 240 kilograms, some 10 times the weight of the computer itself. This is very high compared to many other goods: For an automobile or refrigerator, for example, the weight of fossil fuels used for production is roughly equal to their weights. Also, substantial quantities of chemicals (22 kg), and water (1,500 kg) are used. The environmental impacts associated with using fossil fuels (e.g. climate change), chemicals (e.g. possible health effects on microchip production workers) and water (e.g. scarcity in some areas) are significant and deserve attention. According to Computers and the Environment, “The average desktop PC and 17-inch CRT monitor takes an SUV-sized 1.8 tons of water, fossil fuels and chemicals to make,” and that “Making a 2-gram memory chip requires 1.3 kilograms (1,300 grams) of fossil fuels and materials.”

From this the editors draw the logical conclusion that product life should be extended as long as possible, making incremental upgrades and expandability more environmentally friendly than the “toss it to the curb” mentality adopted by many consumers these days and encouraged by Apple and Microsoft with their sealed unit device designs.

Reform will only come when a substantial proportion of consumers dig their heels in and say “enough,” exerting economic pressure and moral suasion on the manufacturers to reform their policies, or perhaps some regulatory oversight by governments such as at least bans on non-replaceable batteries, perhaps even making provision for RAM, storage drive and processor upgrades mandatory as a last resort.

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