Friday, May 27, 2022

Turning a Basic Task Into a Complicated Nightmare

John Gruber:

Last weekend The Verge ran a piece by Sean Hollister under the headline “Apple Shipped Me a 79-Pound iPhone Repair Kit to Fix a 1.1-Ounce Battery”.


One possible explanation for the complexity and heft of Apple’s self repair toolkit is that iPhones are intricate devices, which require numerous special tools and machines to open and operate upon, along with expert instructions. And that even with the expensive tools and machines, and detailed instructions, they require careful attention to do it right. As with most such tasks, experience helps greatly. Thus Apple has, heretofore, concentrated its repair policies on having iPhones (and other devices) serviced by Apple itself or by certified, trained, trusted partners. And that for the Self Service Repair Program to work, self-repairers will need the same professional tools and machines and detailed instructions. This is necessarily expensive and complicated, and even with that said, there’s nothing Apple can do to bestow experience upon self-repairers. There is nothing Apple can do to make such repairs quick or easy.


If you really think an iPhone battery or cracked screen should be serviceable with nothing more than “a small box of screwdrivers, spudgers, and pliers”, what you’re really asking for is for iPhones (and all other modern computing devices) to be designed, engineered, and assembled in altogether different ways. That sounds great, of course, but that’s not how modern mobile devices work. Apple isn’t an outlier in this regard — there are no popular modern mobile devices that are easily serviceable with simple tools. If it were possible for iPhones to be more easily repairable, without sacrificing their appearance, dimensions, performance, water-and-dust resistance, and cost, Apple would make them more easily repairable. That iPhones are not easily repairable is of no benefit to Apple whatsoever.


The iPhone being the first of the stereotypical modern smartphone having a non-user-replaceable battery does not mean a modern smartphone has to not have a non-user-replaceable battery. It means that when a company with Apple’s design philosophy does one, they will pay more attention to pretty much everything else than to practical maintainability concerns for the user.


The roundabout nature of the repair speaks to the degree to which practicality was not a priority during the design process, with wasteful shipping of enormous machines being one of many side effects.


From a user’s point of view, it is true that having a user-replaceable battery does add to the size and weight of the device, especially the easier the mechanism is to undo. It also adds to the lifetime and the resale value, because now you could do it with your hands in under a minute, or with a screwdriver and maybe some minor tools in under 15 minutes, so now you might actually do it, since you don’t have to give your primary technical support device up for hours or days in a store that may not even be in the same city, without risking your warranty.


Just because servicing is not a “profit center” for a company, doesn’t mean that the company doesn’t benefit from designing its devices to not be user-serviceable.

This is kind of like the battery throttling scandal. In that case, Apple designed the phones in such a way that throttling kicked in rather soon, and without telling the user, and the result was that many were prompted to buy new phones because they didn’t know that all they needed to do was replace the battery. The software could have told them that, but Apple wasn’t looking out for the customer in that way. Here, the result of designing phones that are hard to service is that some number of customers buy new phones to avoid hassle. I don’t think that’s why Apple designed them that way, but neither do I believe that it gave the alternative much consideration.


10 Comments RSS · Twitter

Take a look and mechanical watches - comparing to Apple devices they are a breeze to get into. Also while maintaining water-tight seal.

Old Unix Geek

It's reprehensible that Apple claims to be "green" while designing its products in this way.

It's rather eye opening to see how many "ecological" hipsters have the latest Apple gadgets.

As a species, we should perhaps be called homo hypocritus.

Beatrix Willius

The toolkit is ridiculous. Even for professional service. Changing a battery shoulnd't need more than a screwdriver.

The response video from Louis Rossmann, a well known right to repair activist, to the article from The Verge is worth watching.

Also, I wonder what the iPhone would look like if Apple was somehow forced to make all their devices user-repairable (for example by a EU regulation). What if such a law would have already come into force 10 years ago? We would probably have amazing repairable devices today - Apple is certainly capable to develop great solutions, they just don't want to.

Old Unix Geek

Thanks for the reference to Louis Rossmann's comments.

Niall O'Mara

Apple's battery "throttling scandal" extended the life of the phones - thus delaying the need to upgrade them - it's actually something Apple should get credit for. Without the throttling they'd be constantly crashing due to not having enough power due to battery degradation.

Still amazed people get this so backwards.

@Niall I think there are three parts to it:

1. Designed phones with too-small batteries and/or processors with too-high power demands so that in many cases the battery didn’t even last 2 years before there were problems. Bad.

2. Mitigated #1 by adding throttling to extend the life of the battery. Good.

3. Didn’t tell customers that throttling was happening so many bought new phones (to get better performance) when all they needed was a new battery. Bad.

"Without the throttling they'd be constantly crashing due to not having enough power due to battery degradation"

Sounds like a serious design flaw, not something to congratulate Apple for. I have no other device that has this problem, and I use battery-driven devices that are now 14 years old, and still run on the original batteries - less long, but they definitely don't randomly crash.

Of love to see what kind of phone Apple could make of they set the same goals as Fairphone.

That little paragraph advocating for intentionally difficult-to-repair designs is wild, especially after reporting on the 79-pound suitcase. The lengths Gruber would go to defend Apple never cease to surprise me.

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