Google, Apple, Microsoft, how do big companies “prevent” you from repairing your phone or computer

There are more and more mobile phone repair shops.

If you have paid attention to it, you can easily find that there are more and more mobile phone repair shops and accessories stores around your home. This may confirm a very popular narrative-it is better to sell mobile phones than to make money by selling mobile phone accessories in stores.

However, the increase of mobile phone repair shops has not made it easy for people to repair their mobile phones. After all, whether a mobile phone can be repaired is not entirely determined by the repair shops, but the mobile phone manufacturers.

Bloomberg recently interviewed Justin Millman, a repair shop owner who has been repairing electronic products such as computers and mobile phones for a long time, and found that large companies such as Microsoft, Apple, and Google are "impeding" the repair of electronic products.

Lack of parts, hardware locks, repairing electronic products is far more difficult than imagined

Many people have the impression that the repair of electronic products is extremely profitable. The wholesale parts are very cheap, and they can be replaced in less than half an hour, but people have to pay several times the repair cost of the parts.

In the interview, Millman gave some situations that were different from the usual impressions. He often had to reject a lot of "great profit" repair orders, not because of his lack of technology, but the lack of parts.

Take the Chromebook computer that he often encounters as an example. This kind of device has made a big splash in the education field in recent years. Its sales have increased rapidly. The cheap price is popular with students. However, Chromebooks rely heavily on WiFi modules, and various cloud applications are its fundamental.

The order Millman refused was because the WiFi module of the Chromebook was damaged. He was not in the corresponding repair supplier plan, so he could not get the WiFi module customized by the manufacturer and could not repair it.

This has also contributed to the boom in the parts market. Millman spends several hours browsing more than 25 e-commerce platforms every morning to purchase specific parts on different models of Chromebooks.

The repair market is far larger than expected. He has worked with the school to repair more than 2,000 Chromebooks and iPads in one month.

The circulation of original parts and second-hand parts meets the maintenance needs of third-party shopkeepers like Millman to a certain extent, but the restrictions of manufacturers have not ended.

Previously, second-hand recyclers complained about the T-series security chip of MacBook on social media. In order to ensure the safety of user data, Apple will use the security chip to lock user information, even computer hard drives, and only Mac owners can erase data through Apple ID.

Once a second-hand recycler receives a Mac with unerased data, it can only choose to disassemble the parts and sell it if the data cannot be erased. The prices of second-hand Macs and parts products are still very different.

The same security chip unit is also available in other Apple devices. iFixit tried to replace a third-party camera for the iPhone 12. As a result, the replaced iPhone 12 could not use the ultra-wide-angle lens to shoot, nor could it use portrait light effects.

The lack of custom parts and hardware locking have reduced the repair scope of third-party repairers. Students who only damaged one WiFi module had to buy a new Chromebook.

It seems that Chromebook computer sales have increased significantly during the epidemic. In addition to the skyrocketing demand for online courses, the increased difficulty in transferring parts and the slowdown in transfer speed during the epidemic are one of the important factors. Millman also said in an interview that maintenance orders have increased during the epidemic.

The dilemma encountered by Millman is the epitome of the entire electronic product repair market, not just mobile phones, computers, but also electronic game consoles with longer life cycles. Most manufacturers choose customized parts among key parts, while third-party repair shops lack Corresponding parts are often not available from official repair suppliers.

Every year, there are countless electronic products scrapped due to lack of maintenance, which causes a lot of waste and is not conducive to environmental protection.

According to data from the American public interest research organization RIPG, the United States alone consumes 23.7 million tons of raw materials for the production of smartphones each year. The organization estimates that if consumers in the United States use smartphones for one more year, the reduction in emissions is equivalent to 63.6. Million cars.

▲ Unable to repair a large number of electronic products turned into electronic waste. Picture from: NationSwell

When faced with cross-examination by environmental organizations and regulatory agencies, companies such as Microsoft and Apple often cited "safety."

The maintenance law has been proposed many times, but the pass rate is not high

Faced with the restrictions on maintenance by technology companies, regulatory agencies have not failed to find a way. Improving through legislation is one of the most influential programs, and there have been corresponding historical success stories in the automotive industry.

In 2012, Massachusetts, the United States, had a corresponding maintenance law. The law requires automobile manufacturers and dealers to disclose the information of automobile systems to third-party repair shops to facilitate the independent maintenance of third-party repair shops.

A friend of mine told me earlier that many home appliances would include product circuit diagrams in their manuals. If you have certain professional knowledge, repairing home appliances by yourself is not particularly difficult.

This would have been a good thing, but the maintenance law has not been passed on a large scale worldwide, and its application is also difficult to extend to common electronic products such as mobile phones and computers. Large trading organizations and even large technology companies such as Microsoft are among them. The roadblock.

TechNet, a trade organization representing many large technology companies such as Google and Apple, has repeatedly sent letters to the legislature to discourage the passage of the maintenance law. As TechNet had hoped, more than 25 states in the United States decided not to pass the maintenance law in 2020 alone.

In this regard, Microsoft gave the reason that the maintenance bill would fundamentally destroy their intellectual property rights. This is not nonsense. After the detailed component information of the product is announced, in case someone purchases the relevant core parts and assembles them based on the relevant information, and produces pirated copies. How to deal with the sales of inferior products, there have been cases of replacing the internal parts of the iPhone and repacking sales.

Another reason is "safety." Third-party repairers like Millman have not passed the certification of Microsoft, Apple and other large companies. In the event of a security incident, people’s trust in the product will be greatly reduced. What you don't want to see is the same for technology companies.

In addition, although Apple is one of the earliest companies in many large companies to open services to third-party repair shops, its IRP service also has limitations such as slow review and limited open repairs. Millman said that even if it participates in Apple’s open service The third-party service provider plan also cannot get the iPad screen parts.

It seems that the reasons of big companies are not unfounded, but some consumers think that this is just an excuse. This is just the reason why technology companies "plan to phase out" electronic products, so that consumers can't repair them and buy new products in order to obtain greater benefits. .

However, it is undeniable that the use cycle of mobile phones and computers is getting longer and longer. On the one hand, the performance of the chip is increasing and it can run smoothly for a longer period of time. On the other hand, the system update support cycle is also getting longer.

Google has previously reached a cooperation with Qualcomm to jointly undertake part of the upgrade and adaptation work, so that mobile phones equipped with Qualcomm chips can support 4 years of Android system updates and security updates, and increase the update speed.

Apple has benefited from the advantages of software and hardware collaboration. The system update cycle has been very long. The latest iOS 14 system has achieved system update support for nearly 6 years. However, system updates may also cause problems. Previously, iOS 14.5.1 had a random frequency reduction problem , although Apple later fixed the problem.

In contrast, drop damage and reduced battery life have a more direct impact on the life cycle of electronic products. The lack of parts or hardware locks will make them unable to continue to use, which shows the importance of maintenance methods.

Longer replacement cycles will generate more repair needs

In the PC field, there used to be a famous Andy-Beer law, which basically means that the growth of computer performance needs to be eaten by software with stronger performance requirements. This can promote the healthy development of the computer market and continue to introduce new ones.

This is actually an intuitive description of the supply-demand relationship in the field of electronic products. It can also be applied to multiple electronic product categories such as mobile phones. After more than a decade of development, both computers and mobile phones have entered a highly mature period.

The substantial increase in performance has been difficult to bring about a breakthrough experience improvement. Most of the low-end products on the market can already meet most of the basic experience, and the experience upgrades brought by new products and new technologies are limited, which has given birth to more Long computer and mobile phone use cycles and replacement cycles have further increased.

According to a report released by the China Mobile Terminal Laboratory, the average replacement cycle of mobile phone users in China in 2020 has reached 25.3 months, and the proportion of damaged mobile phones among the reasons for replacement is 25.6%.

This fully shows that the demand for maintenance is growing. If the mobile phone and computer markets remain in the current state of development, the demand for maintenance will only increase in the future, and the high demand will naturally give rise to new business models and even institutions.

The maintenance portal iFixit is just a microcosm of the new business under high demand. It provides general maintenance tutorials such as encyclopedias and relies on the sale of maintenance tools and maintenance programs to obtain revenue.

At the same time, the high demand will also give birth to more repairers like iFixit. Consumers' real money vote will promote the survival of the fittest. In the past, small repairers who steal parts and make repairs in violation of regulations will have a narrower living space.

Regulators for large companies are also constantly introducing new ones. The European Union attaches great importance to the maintenance law, but before that, France passed a new law requiring electronic product manufacturers to mark the repairable score next to the product, and inform consumers of the product through this. The difficulty of repairing in turn pushes manufacturers to make products that are easier to repair.

After the law was introduced, it worked quickly. Samsung quickly added a detailed online repair guide to its Galaxy S21 Plus for people's reference, which can also increase the product's repairability score.

The European Union has passed laws requiring the maintenance period of refrigerators, washing machines, hair dryers and other household appliances in the 27 member states to reach 10 years. The maintenance guide is provided while ensuring that the service life of related parts is also required to reach 10 years.

In the foreseeable future, electronic products such as mobile phones and computers will still be one of our commonly used tools, and the growth of the use cycle will only make the topic of maintenance more and more important, and there are more and more related commercial organizations. Although the law has not been fully passed, people have paid more and more attention to it.

The advancement of relevant laws will enable consumers to enjoy better and more convenient maintenance services.

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