You Can’t Be “Green” and Restrict Repair

You Can’t Be “Green” and Restrict Repair

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Apple announced it would be making all of its devices carbon-neutral by 2030, with a line of carbon-neutral watches for purchase, all announced at its highly anticipated 2023 launch event. An admirable goal no doubt, and one of the most significant pledges by a tech company to date. But when we dig beyond the savvy marketing we get a much more nuanced story.

Apple’s status report to Mother Nature in the 2023 keynote included a lot of talk about carbon-neutral watches—but nothing about increasing device longevity through repair (although the keynote did include the word “repairable” for the first time ever).

But while the company was making jokes about how it’s really doing its darnedest to make its products less damaging to our world, iFixit had some other news. The choice to retroactively reduce the iPhone’s repairability score came from the company’s use of software to constrain repairs through parts pairing.

Mounting public pressure supporting repairability

There is reason to praise companies for making progress on sustainability goals, but there is an equally important responsibility to create policy frameworks that demand (rather than politely ask) corporations to do the right thing.

Apple supported California’s state-wide repair bill after years of hard-fought disagreements replete with lobbying of California lawmakers. Apple also announced that it would begrudgingly step in line by hanging up its proprietary (and highly profitable) Lightning cable and move to the standardized USB-C cable. That wasn’t because the company realized that the added costs to consumers and the environment outweighed its billions in licensing revenue. It was due to changes to laws and requirements in the EU as the supranational government has heeded calls for more repairable electronic designs.

Policies are never bulletproof, however. The same design requirement that forced Apple to adopt the standard the USB-C didn’t mandate minimum data transfer rates, meaning that Apple isn’t required to make fast-charging cables standard in its products. Nor has the Cupertino company taken steps to reform its deeply unrepairable product design for AirPods.

It will take public pressure to force corporations to change their ways. And while well-made marketing can obscure the truth to convince us that carbon-neutral watches will solve our consumption problems, having a device you can easily and cheaply repair is equally important. It might mean Apple can’t cut to beautiful landscape videos of solar panels and wind turbines for a marketing video, but repair has more of an impact than the company is letting on.

Device Page

Lightning to USB cable

Apple's successor to the 30-pin dock connector. This cable has been bundled with most Apple mobile products since 2012-2021

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Other News

  • Google won’t repair cracked Pixel Watch screens: Owners of Pixel Watches are being required to rely on their warranty, which does not cover accidental damage, for fixing their devices, making it difficult for users to repair their devices themselves.
  • Maine officially added right to repair ballot question: Known as Question 4, this change to the state’s law would allow motor vehicle owners and independent repair facilities to have access to vehicle on-board diagnostic systems.
  • Telematics data access isn’t unsafe: The bogus arguments automotive OEMs make to scare people about companies allowing telematics access are everywhere, but what cyber risks would actually be present when automakers comply with laws like Massachusetts’s expanded vehicle repair law?
  • Biodegradability and repairability in fashion is possible: By avoiding plastic components and using natural materials like corozo nut and milk casein for buttons, British fashion designer Phoebe English describes her work as slow and sustainable clothing, using materials like discarded luxury hotel bed linen and textile waste to craft her collection. English also emphasizes the importance of clear legislation to curb the damaging practices of the fashion industry and reduce waste and overproduction.
  • What can we learn from the Luddites? Former tech enthusiast (and former iFixit editorial director) Brian Merchant now embraces a Luddite perspective, recognizing the harm caused by certain technologies and advocating for resistance against tech monopolies and the negative impact of generative artificial intelligence. Merchant draws parallels between today’s tech giants and the technology and industrial firms that sparked Luddism, a popular revolt against tech-driven changes like power looms that undermined livelihoods and communities in the early 19th century. Merchant emphasizes the importance of regulation, worker protections, and sharing the benefits of technology for all.