The European Union is seeking feedback on its Circular Economy Action Plan to ensure smartphone repairability means energy efficiency, durability, ease of repair, upgradable software and ease of reuse or recycling at end of life.
In other words, designing durable cell phones and tablets. To say that this bill horrifies smartphone manufacturers is perhaps an understatement. They push for industry self-regulation – the fox takes care of the chickens – and we all know how that ends.
Legislation must be an inescapable global reality. The EU has already mandated the use of USB-C chargers, started implementing an EU-wide take-back program to return or sell old mobile phones, tablets and chargers, and implements “right to repair” policies, including requiring manufacturers to provide most parts and software updates for five years.
This principle will encompass printers, cartridges and other electronic devices. It also encompasses mandatory battery recycling and the phasing out of single-use batteries.
Simply put, it must be compliant to sell a make/model in the EU.
How long does a smartphone last? Not long enough.
At present, the replacement of smartphones is usually done between two and three years. Not because they are outdated, battery life is decreasing, and a lack of OS upgrades/security patches are forcing users to upgrade. The actual lifespan of a smartphone is well over five years.
Manufacturers are guilty of shortening the upgrade cycle with “must-have” marketing (like very unnecessary 5G and racing to the top of camera specs), trade-in programs, and pay-as-you-go that locks in the user in an earlier update. .
The EU said it will require the most common parts such as battery, screen, back cover, USB-C ports, gaskets, updated operating system, firmware or software are available for five years. In addition, the manufacturer must guarantee reasonable cost of spare parts and easy repair, including manuals and repair codes.
What are the specific problems targeted by the EU?
Areas of potential regulatory intervention include:
- Drop Resistance Standards
- Mandatory IP rating
- Mandatory battery accessibility and longevity (using removable batteries and batteries with longer charge cycles)
- Availability of software/firmware/operating system updates
- Overall product durability – use of durable finishes on screens, buttons and backs
- Easy product disassembly (not the current hot melt glue mess)
- Availability of priority spare parts for five years
- Delete and transfer data functionality
- Mandatory provision of appropriate information for users, repairers and recyclers
These conclusions are part of a preparatory study on behalf of the Commission.
EU understands smartphone repairability will have economic consequences
The impact on users (e.g. prices, demand and social costs) and industry (profitability, level of investment, etc.) will be assessed, covering the entire product value chain by issue (original equipment manufacturers, repair/upgrade operators, recycling industry, etc.).
In short, even if prices go up, devices will last longer and produce less e-waste.
The EU claims its best for the environment
Preliminary estimates indicate that a market with more environmentally friendly products could have tangible effects on environmental impact. For instance:
- Extending the average lifespan of appliances by just one year could reduce climate impact by 25%
- Up to an additional 20% reduction in environmental impacts through other measures, such as improved information on the impacts of the manufacturing phase
- Up to 30% reduction in raw material consumption due to improved material efficiency.
CyberShack POV – Let’s hope the EU smartphone repairability ruling goes viral
The EU’s motivation is to help save the planet, but in doing so it has “exposed” one of the most manipulative industries that deliberately makes it difficult to keep a smartphone in perfect working order. Not all users can afford access to Telco contract or finance locks where you get a new phone every two years – or more often if you wish.
We’ve been reviewing smartphones since the late 90s. There was nothing wrong with the Nokia Feature Phones of the 2000s. My aunt still uses a 20-year-old Nokia Banana phone with a user-replaceable battery that costs about $30 every 4-5 years. It’s refreshing that you can still get Nokia phones.
We can tell you that for at least five years, advancements in Android and iOS smartphones have been evolutionary, not revolutionary. A sophisticated piece of electronics should last a decade. Except the builders want to upgrade you (to make money). It’s a self-fulfilling vicious cycle that creates mountains of e-waste.
What needs to be done
Replacing the battery would be a good place to start. For example, you can get a lithium-ion battery with 200, 400, 800 or more recharge cycles (from 0 to 100%). Most manufacturers go for cheaper 200 or 400 cycles, which means a 2-4 year lifespan – planned obsolescence requiring you to buy a new phone.
OPPO has invented a Smart Battery Health Algorithm and battery health engine – a dedicated battery management chip that will offer its next generation 1600 full charge cycles. But also, he said a removable battery would mean the end of water resistance and thin phones.
Manufacturers are now realizing that they need to provide Android OS upgrades and security patches (read What are the official Android OS update and security policies? (guide), but even the best don’t go far enough.
Let’s hope the EU’s smartphone repairability movement achieves success.