How Repairable Phones Benefit the Environment, Consumers, and Business Alike

Once upon a time, mobile phones weren’t the fragile and replaceable devices they are today. Sure, they were still expensive during their period, but accidentally dropping one didn’t always mean the end. Replacement parts, officially or unofficially, were easy to come by and the actual process of repairing these phones didn’t require a degree. But as mobile phones turned into powerful yet complicated smartphones, much of the repairability of the past also got thrown out the window. Granted, very few consumers will dare to open up their iPhones or Pixels on their own, so why is there a lot of noise these days about having the ability to repair yours? As it turns out, the ability to repair smartphones more easily benefits not just the planet or buyers but even the phone brands themselves.

Designer: Fairphone

Right to Repair

Part of the rhetoric around the smartphone repair situation involves the general Right to Repair movement. As the name implies, it is pushing for legislation, policies, and awareness that would allow owners, as well as third-party businesses, to repair the products that they have bought. It might come as a surprise given how it seems to go against common sense, but the situation with electronics, which includes smartphones, basically disallows anyone but the company and its authorized service centers from opening up and repairing these products. Although it’s not an accurate comparison, it would be like being forbidden from repairing the dress or furniture, requiring you to go to the boutique or shop you bought them from to have them fixed.

Designer: Apple (via iFixit)

To be fair, smartphones are complex beasts, and opening them up risks further damaging the device. Companies also have the obligation to protect their intellectual property from snooping eyes, but that isn’t a blanket reason to design phones to be nearly impossible to repair. iFixit, one of the biggest proponents of this Right to Repair movement for consumer electronics, has reached a middle ground with companies, providing official repair guides and a store for buying replacement parts so that anyone with the skill and courage can do it, whether they’re the owner or a small repair business.

Repairable Phones Are Sustainable Phones

Legal arguments aside, proponents of making smartphones more repairable often appeal to the harmful effects the current state of business has on the planet. The number of smartphones made and shipped every year has probably already exceeded the population of the world, which raises the question of what has happened to these devices over the years. While manufacturers do have programs for sending them your old or broken phones for proper disposal, just how many people actually make the effort to do that? More often than not, they simply stow old phones until they’re forgotten or, worse, mindlessly throw them in the trash so that these non-biodegradable objects ultimately end up in landfills.

Designer: Fairphone

Smartphones aren’t immortal or invincible, of course, but the longer we can keep using them, the longer they’ll stay out of the trash. Truth be told, the biggest reason why people change phones isn’t because of the latest trends but because their old ones have become nearly unusable. A cracked screen, bloated or failing batteries, or a broken charging port are the most common causes, so being able to change these easily helps keep electronic waste down to a minimum and for longer periods of time.

Repairable Phones Save You From Stress

There are definitely people who switch to the latest and greatest models after just two years or sooner, but the majority of users would like to keep their phones for years as long as they’re still usable. It isn’t as much about fondness for the device as the stress of switching to a new one. Even with all the advancements in cloud storage, backups, and phone transfers, people still experience loss and stress when their phones no longer work and have to switch to a new one, often from scratch.

Designer: HMD Global

You still should back up your phone and its data regularly, of course, but improving these devices’ repairability lessens or shortens the anxiety and stress that owners experience. Your phone goes empty in less than a day? Simply change the battery and it’s as good as new. USB charging port feel loose and unreliable? Swap it out for a new one and be on your way. It also saves people from the stress of an unplanned major expense, especially when they can get a better model when the time really comes for them to upgrade.

Repairable Phones Are Good Business

Being able to repair smartphones easily might save consumers money and give small repair shops some business, but manufacturers and their shareholders will probably see it more as a revenue loss. After all, the longer people hold on to their old phones, the less they will buy new ones. Unfortunately, there is definitely some truth to that, which is why even big phone companies hesitate to encourage self-repairs or third-party services. It is, however, an outdated mentality that no longer reflects the reality of our present. Even Apple is realizing that profits are no longer coming just from outright hardware sales but also from software, services, and other sources. It’s definitely high time for these brands to be creative in how they can make more money without busting people’s wallets or killing the planet.

Designer: Samsung

Manufacturers can, for example, profit from selling those replacement parts, but that also needs to be done in moderation. Recent news on this front demonstrates not what to do, which is to make those parts too expensive to the point that it becomes less economical to repair the phone in the first place. iFixit announced it is cutting ties with Samsung for that very reason, with parts beyond the reach of most people anyway.

Companies also need to see repairable phones from a different angle, particularly in how they actually reduce their operational costs and waste. They can cut down on the production of surplus units, keeping their stocks tight. This, in turn, reduces their reliance on costly materials that are either hard to acquire, harmful to the environment, or might even be controversial for being conflict materials. It forces companies to rethink their business, which is currently unsustainable both in the environmental sense as well as the economic sense, driving innovation that could hopefully create a greener tomorrow for its customers.