The EU wants to stop gadgets having glued-in batteries
The European Parliament wants to make devices such as smartphones and tablets easier to repair, calling for companies to build their products with replaceable parts.
EU MEPs have proposed a range of regulatory criteria for future gadgets, targeting the current annual cycle of upgrades employed by Apple, Samsung and almost every other smartphone manufacturer.
These include measures to extend warranties if repairs should take longer than a month, greater customer options to use independent repair services, and easily accessible spare parts, made available “at a price commensurate with the nature and lifetime of the product” – so cheaper than they are now.
“We have to make sure that batteries are no longer glued into a product, but are screwed in so that we do not have to throw away a phone when the battery breaks down,” writes French Green MEP Pascal Durand.
The recommendations also cover a “voluntary European label”, which would include details on a product’s durability, eco-design features and upgradability. They also mention “appropriate dissuasive measures for producers” that want to continue making products with built-in obsolescence.
Besides the ecological reasoning for giving electronic goods a longer life, the EU parliament also has economic motives for advocating independent repairs. Most smartphones are made outside of Europe, and the hope is that EU-based repairs and secondhand sales could create a new batch of local jobs.
“We must reinstate the reparability of all products put on the market,” writes Durand. The resolution was approved by 662 votes to 32, with two abstentions.
As ecologically sensible as its recommendations are, the EU stands to have a difficult time convincing technology companies to move away from their current business models, which are very much built on that annual iterative cycle and all the built-in obsolescence it suggests. Apple, for example, has never released a phone with a removable battery, and is highly unlikely to do so in the future. Nor will technology companies embrace the call for more independent repairers – in-house repairs being a steady source of profit.
That said, the measures aren’t designed to be to the liking of Apple, Samsung, et al. What will matter is how the EU enforces its “dissuasive measures”, and whether these are serious enough to bend the knee of phone manufacturers. A Eurobarometer study from 2014 found that 77% of EU consumers would rather repair their goods than buy a new one, so there could indeed be a market for longer-living devices. Modular phones would be the obvious solution, but signs point to those being dead in the water (Lenovo aside).
While the European Parliament has approved them, the recommendations aren’t law. They do however signal that a vote on these regulations stands a good chance of becoming enforceable legislation. If that happens, tech companies could face a clash with the EU – again.