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Home Tech Why You Should Care About Your Right to Repair Gadgets

Why You Should Care About Your Right to Repair Gadgets

Tech products are among our most expensive household purchases, and their prices keep climbing. Not long ago, the price of a high-end smartphone was $650. Today, new Apple and Samsung phones start at $700 and $800.

The average household would save $330 a year if it repaired products rather than replaced them, which adds up to $40 billion nationwide, according to a study by the U.S. Public Interest Group.

By prolonging the life of your gadgets, you would also put more use into the energy, metals, plastics and human labor invested in creating the product.

There are several barriers to repairing consumer electronics that can make it intimidating.

  • Basic repairs, like replacing a shattered screen or a depleted battery, are not simple. Modern gadgets are so thin and tightly glued together that special tools are usually needed to pry them open. It’s also not straightforward to buy genuine parts — you can’t go to the Apple or Samsung website to order a replacement screen or battery, for example.

  • Fixing basic components is also becoming increasingly impractical for unauthorized repair shops, especially with Apple phones. Many important parts inside newer iPhones, including cameras, batteries and screens, require proprietary software tools to finish the job, independent fixers said.

  • Going to the Apple and Microsoft retail stores and authorized repair shops is a simple option, but the costs there can be so high that you might be persuaded to just buy a new device. When I took my wife’s iPhone to an Apple Store this year, I was quoted $280 to replace a broken touch-screen, about 40 percent of the price of a brand-new iPhone. I turned to another route instead.

Independent fixers get access to tools, parts and instructions for repairs when they enroll in partnerships with tech companies to become authorized service centers. But Kyle Wiens, chief executive of iFixit, which publishes free instruction manuals for people to restore their gadgets, said many independent fixers were turned off by the contractual terms to become authorized.

One requirement to be an authorized Apple repair center involves collecting detailed service records, including customer names, product serial numbers and mailing addresses. This information must be provided to Apple in the event of an audit to verify that repairs are being done properly. Even if a repair provider terminates its agreement with Apple, it must agree to continue to share this information with the company for two years.

There is also the issue of price. Shakeel Taiyab, an independent fixer in South San Francisco, said he charged lower prices to customers because he obtained authentic parts from channels such as electronics refurbishers who extract working components from defective gadgets. (He charged me $180 to fix my wife’s iPhone screen, undercutting the Apple store by $100.)

Mr. Taiyab said that if he became an authorized provider, he would follow the rules, which might result in raising prices for his customers — something he said he didn’t want to do.


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