iPhone XS: They don’t make them like they used to

Apple releases new iPhones amid concerns over the increasingly short life of electronic devices and the impact of big tech companies on the environment.

The new iPhones come with a sleek design and improved water-resistance, but fixing them will still be a headache.

US activist collective iFixit tear down the latest iPhone XS and XS Max this week to assess just how hard it can be to repair them.

The group gave the new smartphones a 6 out of 10 repairability score. In comparison, the new Nokia 8110 4G was given an 8 out of 10 repairability score in July.

Tech companies like Apple have been repeatedly accused of shortening the lifespan of electronic devices by making repair more difficult and expensive –a tactic that’s believed to increase new sales but also waste generation.

The iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max are no better repairable than their predecessors, Maarten Depypere of iFixit Europe told META.

Apple did ease battery and display replacements this year. But “to replace them you still need two specific screwdrivers, which the company doesn’t make available, and some heat to fight your way through the adhesive,” he said.

The crackable back glass design also complicates repairs. “If you break the back glass, you need to remove all the components and replace the frame. This makes it next to impossible to replace a cracked rear glass,” according to Depypere.

Meanwhile, Apple announced it will increase again the price for repairs–and particularly for battery replacements. As of January 2019, having an iPhone battery replaced in Apple stores will cost €49 for the old models and €69 for the latest ones.

The company initially lowered the price for battery replacements to €29 at the beginning of the year, after admitting it intentionally slowed down older iPhones.

So what’s the problem?

Green groups warn that by actively discouraging repair and reuse tech companies are endangering the planet.

Since 2007, more than 7 billion smartphones have been produced, according to Greenpeace, which said US consumers use a phone for just over two years on average.

E-waste has become the fastest growing waste stream, accounting for 70% of the toxic waste in US landfills. The 2017 Global E-Waste Monitor report highlighted increasing levels of e-waste and its improper and unsafe treatment and disposal through burning or landfill.

At the same time, increasing production has put a strain on the world’s finite resources. A recent study estimated that 70 kg of natural resources are needed to manufacture just one smartphone, and that the intensive extraction of natural resources pollutes air, water and soil along the way.

Apple is releasing a new series of iPhones as it does every year, and just like previous models, they will have an unspoken expiration date built in,” said Thibaud Hug de Larauze, CEO and co-founder of Back Market—the largest marketplace for refurbished electronic devices.

This week, the company joins activists in warning against new device bulimia—where new models are gobbled up and then soon enough purged.

“The goal of [our] campaign is to convince consumers to stop systematically turning to new models,” Back Market’s co-founder Vianney Vaute said.

This is an effective way to combat the overproduction of electronics, the overexploitation of natural resources, and the explosion of e-waste.”

What can Europe do?

Despite growing pressure, such business practices are permitted in most countries and for now tech companies have mostly stayed out of trouble.

Campaigners argue that policy makers should take steps to boost repair and reuse as this would help protect both consumers and the environment. Electronic devices like smartphones should be designed to last and be repaired, said Stephane Arditi–a policy manager at the European Environmental Bureau (EEB).

Arditi argues the EU should oblige manufacturers to make spare parts and repair tools available as well as repair information and software updates. They can do so by setting requirements for smartphones through the EU legislation on product policy, known as Ecodesign, which gradually removes from the market the least efficient products.

The EEB, along with other EU organisations working on a Right to Repair campaign, also called for the development of a scoring system to rate the repairability of different products. This information would appear on labels.

Campaigners maintain that such a scoring system would help consumers gain a better understanding of the impact of certain products on the environment. It would pull them towards the best products on the market and would incentivise businesses to continue improving their products.