Even with pampering, the battery of smartphones is falling irresistibly: we feel the need to replace it every three or four years. The maneuver required only a minute a decade ago: It usually took just a bit of a stubborn plastic cover to access it. Today, the operation takes easily thirty minutes and requires so much skill that many do-it-yourselfers give up in the process. Is this increase in complexity justified?
A mechanic looking to replace a cell phone’s battery, screen or any other fragile part has three main challenges ahead. The first is sticky and stubborn: it is the glue that holds the screen and back of the mobile phone firmly in place. You will need a heater to soften this adhesive and a suction cup to separate the elements. The maneuver is so precise that mechanics sometimes break the back of cell phones by separating them from the rest.
Is this glue irreplaceable, which makes repairs so difficult? Modern smartphones, unlike their ancestors, are becoming more and more waterproof, and this material is an excellent barrier to penetration: “Light, economical, durable and easy to disassemble”, admits Maarten Depypere, head of repair policy at iFixit, a repair guide site. As a bonus, it “reinforces the smartphone’s rigidity and protects its electronic components”The manufacturer has a spokesperson for Oppo.
replace the adhesive
However, a few rare manufacturers are exploring alternative solutions. Fairphone, a Dutch smartphone manufacturer that is particularly easy to repair, replaces the adhesive with screws. Crosscall, a French manufacturer of shockproof mobile phones, mixes screws and glue in reduced amounts. Their smartphones are, of course, easier to disassemble, but they also turned out to be heavier and bulkier. “We had to add a gasket that thickens the mobile a bit”Nicolas Leclerc, director of research and development at Crosscall, admits and adds: “the teeth are widening around”.
For Miquel Ballester, Fairphone director of product management, it’s all about priorities. “The design of a smartphone is extremely complex, we have to choose our battles. If a manufacturer wants to offer the cheapest product, they don’t care how their smartphone is disassembled. This is true for many brands. »
a complex mess
The second hurdle DIY enthusiasts face is the mixing of parts. It is common to unscrew a few elements before releasing the battery. Removing the screen of an Android smartphone is even worse: you have to remove the back cover and then take apart many parts, which requires a lot of skill, a certain amount of self-confidence, and when the time comes you have to put everything back in its place. together again, a perfect memory.
It would be easier to rip off both sides of a smartphone and access its screen or back as you wish. This is the design Apple went back to with the iPhone 14 Pro after five years of disassembling the front and making it very difficult to replace the back. “We do the same.Witnessing Nicolas Leclerc from Crosscall, mBut this complicates the design. Getting the antenna around the mobile phone becomes more difficult, as is placing the buttons. » Additionally, the smartphone gets thicker here as well.
The iPhone 14 Pro is accessible from both sides, but almost all of its parts continue to build up on its back intimidatingly, making many repairs difficult. “We can find creative solutions to this problem”, Nicolas Leclerc testifies. For example, divide the pieces into two tiers, one accessible from the front and the other from the back.
There is a third challenge that can prevent a person from repairing their smartphone on their own: the size of the cables. The most convoluted ones are ultra-flat, a good millimeter wide, and plug into microscopic sockets. Their use requires good eyes and a steady hand. But there are alternatives here too. In Crosscall, some components are plugged directly into circuit boards, such as small Lego pieces. Fairphone main cables have their own connectors and are large enough to be easily cut by most people.
This solution does not appeal to Oppo, a major manufacturer that fears the proliferation of connectors. “increases failure rates”. Asked WorldA spokesperson for the Chinese brand explains: “Reliability must precede repairability”. But for those trying to simplify these connections, Crosscall and Fairphone insist on two more disadvantages: the mobile phone becomes more complex to manufacture and the smartphone becomes thicker once again.
A compromise that keeps coming back: another mobile “removable” According to Régis Koenig, Director of Services and Sustainability at Fnac Darty, a bulkier mobile phone that shouldn’t be overlooked: “Smartphone is the tool we use most frequently during the day. It should be thin, light, practical. »
However, we’ll be confident observing the most detachable of the smartphones available, the Fairphone 4, which is only a few millimeters thicker than a traditional cell phone and weighs just a few tens of grams. “We are a small company with one hundred and thirty employees.Highlights Miquel Ballester. Imagine what the big manufacturers could do if they followed this idea. They would probably come up with much more compact and ingenious solutions. »
If Apple, Samsung or Oppo were to market a larger smartphone that was easier to disassemble, it would certainly appeal to some consumers who have given up on Fairphone’s austerity policy. Oppo’s spokesperson believes it “would be a niche market”. “Disassembly” is a hidden quality synonymous with elegance, less attractive than the thinness of a mobile phone. An argument that bothers Miquel Ballester: “The marketing departments of major manufacturers are good at making visible what they want to highlight.” For Nicolas Leclerc, “It’s a bit in line with the times and it’s good to get there”.
Even as Apple, Samsung, and other major manufacturers begin to compete with Fairphone in the disassembly space, many consumers will remain indifferent to the repairability issue even if a third of their smartphones fail over a three-year period, according to a study by rugged cell phone maker Bullitt.
But legislation may soon bring the entire market back to this concern. The European Commission is working on a text that would require manufacturers to make their batteries replaceable by a layman without special tools, except where batteries are particularly durable and weaken shortly after a thousand charge cycles. “Goodbye glueExcites Maarten Depypere of iFixit. We are hopeful that this law will pass in 2023”.