Why We Need to Push Harder for Right to Repair

Written - April 2022

Many of you will know me as the author of The Green IT Guide (Apress, 2022) in which I talk about a wide range of subjects including the importance of Right to Repair.  If you haven’t heard about Right to Repair I have an article detailing it on this link, but in short it’s pushing back against the fairly recent trend of hardware manufacturers making our smartphones, laptops, and many other devices from ice-cream machines to tractors either unrepairable by anybody except the company that made it, or completely unrepairable entirely.

This normally happens because components are glued in place, usually in the name of making the product smaller, slimmer, and more water resistant.  Many companies though including Microsoft, Apple, Google, and Samsung are beginning to get the message about Right to Repair however, and legislation on the subject is beginning to pass through parliaments in the USA and European Union.

This Earth Day I wanted to highlight one of the barriers being thrown up by these companies that is, perhaps, deliberately trying to slow down the Right to Repair movement, or maybe even stop it altogether.

I read several regular articles and blogs from people that back right to repair including Louis Rossmann who has a great YouTube channel.  One of the regular articles I read though is in the UK PC magazine I subscribe to, PC Pro and it’s contributor Lee Grant.  In the most recent issue he wrote about the subject and raised a very pertinent point when writing about Microsoft’s new Surface SE, which is a repairable laptop designed for education.

Speaking about a Microsoft video featuring the company’s senior DFX engineer Brandon Cole, he wrote.  “I threw my podcast toys of the pram largely because of the rhetoric in Brandon’s script.  He says: ‘There’s a lot of work that went into designing this device to be so repairable.’  I think what the scriptwriter meant to say was, ‘we found a five year-old HP Stream in a bin and ran it through the photocopier.”  There’s nothing about the Surface SE that hits a progressive definition of repairable.  All the usual suspects I bang on about, like soldered on RAM and eMMCs, are here.  The best we can say is that the Surface SE has replaceable and available parts, which is an underwhelming statement for such a seismic shift in the right direction.”

This is a great point and goes back to what I mentioned at the beginning of this article.  If we go back to laptops and smartphones of a few years ago, we will discover devices that were held together by screws, and components on the motherboard that could be swapped.  It was very straightforward for your local repair shop to replace a screen in just 30 minutes, and in addition to IT departments being able to repair laptops, they could also upgrade them by adding more RAM and larger SSDs.

It’s very true that these companies know full well how to make devices repairable, as they’ve already been doing it for years.  Any excuse as to why they can’t brush off those old tools and ideas to make their current devices repairable is just that, an excuse.

A few weeks ago, in another opinion piece, I write about the problems of e-waste and why it’s such a huge challenge, both for climate change, but also for pollution of water and the ground where people live around the world, especially in the developing world where this is a significant issue.

Clearly there is much, much more work to do to put pressure on hardware manufacturers to make their devices repairable, to avoid the e-waste problem getting any worse, and to reduce the costs of purchasing hardware for business and individuals around the world.  Thus I wanted to use this Earth Day to help raise awareness of the issue, and I encourage you to contact your own elected representatives to press them to legislate on Right to Repair.  Only together can we bring about the change that we, and the planet need so badly.

Learn how to make your computer and smartphone use more environmentally friendly and sustainable with Mike Halsey’s book “The Green IT Guide“, now on sale from Apress, Amazon, and all good book sellers.