Letter From the Editor

The Future Must Be Fixable

A great device can still be a pain to repair

A teardown of Microsoft’s Surface Duo foldable phone. Photo: iFixit

Earlier this month, movers dropped and shattered my television. It was less than a year old and, it turns out, completely unsalvageable.

The original manufacturer, LG, shrugged: Accidental damage understandably isn’t covered under warranty. The company’s customer service agent connected me to a number of local repair shops, none of which were able to fix the screen. Displays are by far the most expensive part of a television, and I soon learned that a replacement for my particular LG would cost about $1,117, not including any shipping or labor costs. I had bought the TV brand new for $1,300.

So it wasn’t that my local repair shops didn’t have the know-how to fix the thing, necessarily—it just didn’t make any economic sense for them to do so. I negotiated with the movers to pay me back for the damage, arranged for the busted TV to be hauled off for whatever recycling is possible, and paid for a new set. An awful waste all around.

The ordeal reminded me of a story I wrote last year about the Samsung Galaxy Fold after critics found flaws with early review units that led to broken displays. Experts told me that the Fold’s unusual form factor would lead to issues down the line, even once the hardware kinks were worked out, because the market for replacement screens would be extremely limited. Repairing this device, and devices like it, would be an expensive prospect — one that would largely be controlled by a manufacturer’s willingness to make these unusual screens available to repair shops (and by repair shops’ willingness to pay for them).

With all of this as the backdrop, I was disheartened to see a new teardown from iFixit of the Microsoft Surface Duo — a $1,400 folding phone that’s earning positive reviews, including from OneZero’s Owen Williams. The device’s batteries are nearly impossible to remove and marked with a warning: “This component cannot be easily replaced by user.” (Because batteries cannot physically last forever, iFixit says the Duo in effect sports “a built-in death clock.”) And the OLED screens are fragile but must be removed to safely access the device’s components.

“As with prior first-generation Microsoft portables, the thin, premium, category-creating Duo is not something meant to be repaired, maybe not even by Microsoft,” iFixit concludes.

This is an unfortunate turnabout for a company that recently signaled it would prioritize repairability in its gadgets, and especially lamentable during a global pandemic. Now more than ever, we need a future that’s fixable: As our lives have become closely tethered to the information dancing across our screens, we shouldn’t expect consumers to shell out for complete replacements whenever things go wrong. (For more on all of this, see my recent story on the new iPad Pro.)

In case you missed it: OneZero published a number of great pieces last week, including a fascinating technical look at your phone’s inability to capture an “apocalypse sky” like the one seen in California, an update on Portland passing a groundbreaking ban on facial recognition, a treatise on away messages (bring them back!), and a glimpse at the future of gene-edited babies.

Coming up: Apple is holding an event today, and we’ll have the developer’s perspective from Kaya Thomas. We’re also preparing an exciting feature about how some of the world’s biggest social media companies operate — you won’t want to miss it.

This is a weekly editor’s letter from OneZero editor-in-chief Damon Beres. If you have information or a viewpoint to share, feel free to reach Damon via email or on Twitter.

Co-Founder and Former Editor in Chief, OneZero at Medium

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