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Why repairing mobiles is not easy enough

We appear on The One Show tonight, talking about mobiles and why we – and professionals – struggle to repair so many of them in a cost-effective way.

You rarely hear this, but most of the environmental impact of a mobile occurs before it even reaches the consumer. Which means that using mobiles for longer is crucial to reducing their environmental impacts. So our insights about barriers to repair can be useful to planned European Commission efforts to create “resource efficient” product standards for mobiles.

Our experience

We tell people that they really should not come to Restart Parties to repair mobile screens purely to save money. Mobile screen repair is complex and can be very frustrating, so most of all it is a good learning opportunity and we have many patient volunteers who are willing to help guide people.

We have data on 600+ mobiles in our community repairs database, and we fixed roughly half. (Almost half of these required spare parts.)

Common problems we witness at our events:

  • screen repairs
  • exhausted batteries
  • problems with charging connector
  • software corruption (attempted software update which made phone unresponsive or “bricked”)

Because of the product design, some of these repairs are not possible at community events – often not provided by manufacturers either. Third-party repair is often the only option. (But even mobile repair shops cannot offer cost effective repair in many cases, or gain access to quality spare parts.)

For example, a simple thing: battery replacements are much harder than they should be. Long gone are the days of easily user-replaceable batteries. We need screwdrivers, heat guns and often even strong suction tools. Some major manufacturers do not sell genuine replacement batteries, so once you are out of warranty, you need to find third-party replacements or trust a commercial repairer.

Sourcing quality screens can be a major ordeal, as this podcast revealed.

Software obsolescence

Software support is problematic, particularly for Android devices. The fragmentation of the Android ecosystem of devices is such that manufacturers do not support them for as long as they should. In addition, phones distributed by network operators have additional restrictions, often slowing official updates to be released and at times preventing users to install free and open source alternatives.

Pie graph of Android systems in use
Almost half of Androids have not had an update in years. Source: Android

A key problem with lack of software updates is that if a phone does not receive up to date security patches, it might not be secure to operate, reducing people’s willingness to keep using it.

One response

  1. At 2018, it is a time to shift from problem awareness to providing solutions.

    1.7 Million devices may be used with a community supported open-source Android OS, LineageOS.

    Top 5 devices list (the developers community approves to deserve devices life much longer)
    1)OnePlus One
    2)Samsung Galaxy S3
    3)Xiaomi Redime Note4
    4)Motorola G 2015
    5)Samsung Galaxy S5

    Interestingly (Of course!) all of top 5 devices for spare parts are available at replacebase.co.uk

    Here, you would find a community driven Eco system outside of the current system.

    Replacing a battery means the extension of Mobile life for another 2-3 years. Who would bother if your Smartphone won’t be supported with the latest OS?

    It seems that people are looking for the reason to dump their mobile phone, but if you do use an open source community developed Android OS, you don’t need to do so anymore. Happy hacking to 2018, welcome to a new world .

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