Friday, October 20, 2023

The Average Lifespan of a Smartphone

Isabel Rubio (via Hacker News):

While Marcos Fernández managed to last six years with his previous device, the average lifespan of a smartphone is much lower. In Europe, for instance, it’s about three years, according to the European Environment Office (EEB). This figure is far less than the 25 years that a phone would need to last to offset its negative impact on the environment. The EEB highlights that extending the life of all smartphones in the European Union by just one year would save 2.1 million tons of carbon dioxide on an annual basis between now and 2030… “the equivalent of taking more than a million cars off the road.”


So why does a person, on average, change their smartphone every three years? One of the main reasons is “esthetic obsolescence, the constant search for something new,” explains Mário Barros[…]


What fails most with cellphones is the battery, followed by the operating system and the screen, according to a 2020 study by the Organization of Consumers and Users (OCU).


Some weeks ago, my iPhone 12 started to show some glitches. First, it was the Wi-Fi, which became grayed out in the settings. Shortly thereafter, the Bluetooth followed suit. Before long, my cellular data began acting up, only to completely stop functioning after a few weeks. Finally, the iPhone began spontaneously rebooting.

Having AppleCare+, I naturally expected this to be a minor hiccup. I packaged my iPhone and shipped it to the Apple Repair Center in Elk Grove, California, expecting my device to be returned to me in working order. I was in for a rude shock.

Apple’s technicians allegedly found that my device had been “damaged or modified” in such a way that it wasn’t covered by Apple’s Warranty, AppleCare products, or an Apple Service Program, and thus they refused to repair my device.


Remember, sometimes you need to push through, persist, and speak directly to the right people to get your issue resolved.

Kyle Wiens (Hacker News):

We need to have a serious chat about iPhone repairability. We judged the phones of yesteryear by how easy they were to take apart—screws, glues, how hard it was to change a battery. But repairs have gotten trickier, by design. Software now limits many basic iPhone repairs. That’s why we’ve revised the repairability score for the iPhone 14 from a recommend 7 out of 10 to a do-not-recommend 4.

Although we enthusiastically awarded it a solid score at launch last year, thanks to its innovative repair-friendly architecture—of which we remain big fans—the reality for folks trying to fix these things has been very different. Most major repairs on modern iPhones require Apple approval. You have to buy parts through their system, then have the repair validated via a chat system. Otherwise, you’ll run into limited or missing functionality, with a side of annoying warnings.


Update (2023-10-25): MiltonLumky (via Damien Petrilli):

as a Apple technician who open thousand of new and used phones I’ll have to admit that apple should more control Chinese workers, I’ll saw a lot of finger prints, missing screw, missing parts, bad applied display adhesive etc. etc. It’s really sad, apple sell his devices for a thousand of dollars but they trust low paid overworked employees more than the customers who spend the money… every time when I’ll see „unauthorized modification”, I feel that the customer is simple cheated by big apple


I work as an Apple technichian as well and i can confirm this. Also i have a strong suspicion that if the repair center manages to fuck up the phone in some way, they will sometimes find a way to blame the customer, or mark the device as either modified or tampered with. Even when no modifications or tampering has been done to the device.

I once got a phone returned, repair center refused repair as it had been tampered with. The phone was a replacement unit directly from Apple that was almost brand new, and had issues not related at all to the original issue.

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I was smiling at reading the story of multiple glitches on an iPhone. Hundreds of millions of users have wildly different lifestyles. And commitment at taking proper care of their items. I cannot possibly proof the iPhone was repaired with third party, unauthorized and fake components and/or damaged by mis-use. But clues point in that direction. Apple Care also cares about customers relationship, no matter how careless a single customer is he/she is still valuable if continues to buy, so it played nice.

If the EU focused on pushing for extended support and software updates availability, which Apple provides already, we would have avoided hundreds of millions of throwaway Android phones. It pushed for a connector instead. Minimum common denominator that doesn’t make any dent in the environmental crisis we are in. In a way they treated smartphones as TVs in need of a common SCART connector. We are not there anymore.

Keeping your phones in service longer, decreases the total cost of ownership. I presume this also decreases the carbon footprint, but as an externality, it's hard to estimate. I saw some Apple papers announcing a goal of a full lifecycle zero-carbon footprint of iPhones, manufacture through recycling. That's astonishing.

Interestingly, Google has just released the Pixel 8 phone, and they are guaranteeing seven years of operating system and security updates. It remains to be seen how many people will use this phone for seven years, but one of the problems of keeping a phone too long is that it doesn’t get security updates, if it becomes unsafe to use.

iPhones tend to be supported with security updates for several years, but not seven years. Here’s something I wrote about this recently.

I’m managing to keep going with my iPhone 7 now in its seventh yeah but realise will have to upgrade soon -never had a battery upgrade so on trips bring a battery pack - still works great using to tap on trains etc when in london and as a sat nav in car.
A small pro phone may have won me over by now but I use real cameras so the camera improvements don’t hold as much sway with me.
Credit to Apple making a mobile device to last this long.

There is no such thing as fake components.
There are first party, and third party.

Again for those at the back

There is no such thing as fake components.
There are first party, and third party.

It looks like many people just want a better phone, and phone makers making the devices better and better each year. People buy new models not because the devices they have brake, they often work fine, people can afford new phones and want new features and improvements.

Supporting new versions of the OS on older devices is tricky too, most of the time security fixes is the more reasonable way to go. Apple, Google and others already try doing it.

Another issue is that new smartphones are getting too large and heavy.

I bought a refurbed 2016 iPhone SE several years ago because it was uniquely shirt-pocket size (4" screen, 4 oz weight) and it continues to be useful because the A9 processor is just powerful enough for mostly text-based websites, reading online books etc.

At some point, may replace it with a refurbed iPhone 12, 13 mini or 2022 SE.

Apples "recycling" amounts to shredding components so that they can't be used by independent repair shops.

Their carbon neutral products rely on planting trees etc, which has been proven to be a scam.

They're spending hundreds of millions to block right to repair bills.

At the moment you either get a Fairphone, or you turn a blind eye to the ongoing climate crisis.

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