Google Needs to Talk About Repairability
In fact, any company launching a new phone does
At a press event on Tuesday, after taking some time to detail its investments into recycled materials and renewable energy, Google unveiled the shiny new Pixel 4 phone. The latest in the company’s flagship smartphones offers a new radar chip, a better Google Assistant, and two cameras. Absent from that announcement was any information on how to repair said phone when it starts to show its age.
It was a conspicuous void, because Google took pains to address its environmental impact at this event. According to Google, all of its 2019 Nest products will be built with recycled plastic, shipping hardware products will be “100% carbon neutral,” and the company said it would invest $150 million in renewable energy products. That all sounds good.
But if a gadget maker wants to tout its environmental commitments, it should have a plan for how its products live and die. In the case of a device like the Pixel 4, that means repairability and recycling. Google didn’t address how you might fix your Pixel 4 if things go wrong — or if you’d simply like to extend its lifespan. (Microsoft, as a point of contrast, directly alluded to the repairability of the new Surface Laptop 3 in a similar event earlier this month.)
“I think any discussion about responsible manufacturing should include talk about how to repair these devices, and what happens to these devices at the end of their lifetimes,” says Kevin Purdy, a repair advocate at iFixit. “Because to ignore that is a very narrow view of what responsible manufacturing is.”
Google didn’t respond to a request for comment about repairability. But in general, the way current smartphones are designed largely dissuades users from fixing their own devices. “They are just a small rectangular obelisk of glass and metal that seems impenetrable,” Purdy explains. Performing even simple repairs like changing out the battery can often require prying up glass, using a heat gun to loosen adhesive, or pulling apart tiny cables with tweezers.
Yet the simple act of replacing a battery can have a huge impact on a device’s lifespan. Over time, batteries degrade, meaning they don’t hold a charge as well, and they can shut off prematurely…