Apple, Google and Samsung are (quietly) opening up to home repairs

Three of the biggest smartphone makers — Apple, Google and Samsung — have made it easier in recent months for those who want to repair their own device at home, at least in the United States. They now allow the purchase of original parts, something that was once reserved for authorized repairers. And they offer guides, which explain for example how to replace the screen or the battery of your phone.

This change of course represents the start of a victory for those who defend the right to repair, which aims to reduce overconsumption and counter the obsolescence of electronic gadgets.

In all three cases, however, the gains are only partial. Here’s why.

Reserved for Americans

Both Apple (which launched its own microsite in April) and Samsung (through a partnership with electronics repair company iFixit that went live in early August) only offer their parts in the United States for sale. instant.

The guides can be viewed in Canada, but you will need to find the parts elsewhere on the web, and their provenance is therefore not guaranteed. You may, for example, receive a replacement screen whose glass will be less solid than that of an original part.

Apple plans to expand its program later this year, and Canada should be on the list of countries where parts can be purchased, but Samsung has yet to make such an announcement.

Google is the exception here. The company has been selling its parts since May on the Canadian version of the iFixit site.

The price of parts is often high

Performing a repair at home does not mean that a windfall awaits us.

If $43 on iFixit is a good price to replace the battery of a Google Pixel 3 (and thus potentially give it a second life), shelling out $347 for an Apple iPhone 13 Pro screen is just a saving. minimal compared to in-store repairs ($365), even if you already have all the necessary tools and you’re the one doing the work.

Not given, the tools

Samsung’s and Google’s guides were designed to require a minimum of tools, which are offered inexpensively (about $10) on iFixit.

However, this is not the case with Apple. If one wants to remove a screen by following its guides, a special tool over $300 must be purchased, or rented for around $65. Two boxes of equipment weighing more than 35 kilos in total are then delivered to the user.

Adding up the cost of tools and parts, the process is rarely advantageous over shop repairs.

The choice of parts is still limited

Few parts are offered to the general public at the moment: those intended for aging devices are rare, and some are downright too expensive to be sold individually.

At Apple, for example, only iPhones of the 12, 13 and SE series are included in the program. However, several replacements are then possible, such as the battery, the main speaker, the camera, the screen, the SIM card holder and the Taptic Engine, which allows the screen to vibrate.

Here too, Google is doing a little better, with parts for all its phones launched since 2017 (since the Pixel 2 more precisely). Repairs, however, are largely limited to the battery, camera and screen.

Samsung, for its part, only allows repairs of phones in the Galaxy S20 and Galaxy S21 ranges. You can then change the charging port, the glass on the back of the case or the screen and the battery (these two parts must be replaced at the same time).

It remains to be seen whether the situation will improve over time, as new models are launched and parts of the previous ones remain accessible.

Repair is secondary in the design of telephones

The battery and the screen are two of the most frequently changed parts. However, the maneuver is not easy. The iFixit tutorial for replacing them on the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra contains 82 different steps. Even with specialized tools, replacing the screen of the Apple iPhone 13 Pro has 61 steps.

In addition, several parts cannot be disassembled, requiring the replacement of several parts at the same time (it is for this reason that the repair of the memory of an iPhone X in the shop costs 719 dollars, for example).

In either case, the problem is the same: repairability is generally secondary in the design of electronic devices (there are exceptions, such as the Fairphone, which is however not available in Canada).

Making it easier to repair telephones at home is a step in the right direction, but until they are designed to extend their life in this way, the concrete effect of the measure will be limited.

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