iPhone with cracked screen; top half is turning into square pixels that are floating off of the device

Apple just launched its first self-repair program. Other tech companies are about to follow suit.

Microsoft on Friday released the results of an independent study it conducted to explore the environmental benefits of making it easier to repair its devices. His conclusions confirm what advocates of right to reform have been saying for years: Repairing devices rather than replacing them reduces the waste and emissions associated with making new devices.

Based on these findings, Microsoft will take action to enable further repair of its hardware by the end of the year, as stipulated in an agreement the tech company reached with the investor advocacy nonprofit As You Sow last fall.

The Microsoft Study Edition came only for two days After Apple launched the “Self Service Repair” program, the first program of its kind that allows owners of newer iPhone models to order original parts and tools from Apple to perform basic repairs to smartphones, such as replacing the screen and battery at home. More of these programs to come: In late March and early April, both Samsung and Google announced plans to sell original smartphone repair parts via partnerships with repair guide site iFixit. Both programs appear on track to launch in the next few months.

From a consumer perspective, these actions are small steps toward a world in which tech giants are actively facilitating the reform of their products rather than standing in the way of it. Companies like Apple, Microsoft, and Google not only have historically designed products that are difficult to fix, but they also have a well-documented history of fighting bills that would support consumers’ right to fix them. For these companies, audits and reform programs represent a major policy shift that would not have occurred without a combination of public and shareholder pressure, as well as the looming specter of laws and regulations intended to rein in Big Tech’s anti-reform practices.

Companies are also changing their approach to reform because restricting it is increasingly at odds with their climate and sustainability goals, something shareholders are keen to point out.

Microsoft’s New Reform Study confirms that standalone reform has tangible environmental benefits.

The study, conducted by technical consultancy Oakdene Hollins, looked at how to facilitate repair through design changes and increased repair options that will impact the waste and carbon emissions associated with Microsoft Surface Pro, Surface Book and Surface Laptop Studio devices. According to a summary published by Microsoft today, repairing rather than replacing Microsoft products could reduce the waste and carbon emissions associated with manufacturing new devices by up to 92 percent.

The study found greater reductions in greenhouse gas emissions when consumers have access to local repair options, underscoring the importance of supporting independent repair work and allowing installers who are able to repair their equipment at home.

Tech companies aren’t waking up to the environmental benefits of overhauling on their own. As You Sow investor advocate Kelly McBee told Grist, when she first contacted Microsoft about restrictive reform policies last spring, the company told her it saw no link between fixability and sustainability. When I met with Microsoft earlier this month to review the findings of its study — which came through a shareholder agreement as Microsoft reached in October — Microsoft’s position changed.

“They actually thanked us for bringing this to their attention,” McBee told Greest. “It was a really different feeling than the first meeting – and they admitted that too.”

McBee is optimistic that Microsoft will follow through on the second part of the shareholder pledge, to work on the results of its study by the end of 2022. She noted that the company has already taken a few steps toward enabling stand-alone repair, including releasing a video showing how to disassemble its Surface Laptop SE in January, and the launch of a program in December that allows independent repair professionals to purchase Microsoft service tools from iFixit.

“By the end of 2022, we will have expanded options for customers to repair their devices,” a Microsoft spokesperson told Grist in an emailed statement. “Independent repair is part of this suite of repair options, and by the end of 2022 we will be implementing a limited pilot program to enable repair of certain devices by qualified independent repair shops.”

While Microsoft was negotiating a shareholder agreement with As You Sow Last fall, Apple was facing a similar shareholder decision made by mutual fund company Green Century — one that asked the iPhone maker to “reverse” its anti-reform practices in order to bolster its climate commitments. While Apple initially tried to block the decision, it instead ended up announcing its plan to launch a self-service reform program just in time to prevent the decision from moving forward with Securities and Exchange Commission, the federal investor protection agency.

Apple has been pretty silent about the self-service fix since it was announced last fall, and before this week, Apple fans began wondering if the company had forgotten about it. Now that it’s live, the repair community will be closely examining the software. Already, iFixit has raised concerns about how Apple parts can be paired to individual devices based on their serial number — something that could allow Apple to restrict the use of those same parts to repairing other phones in the future. Apple did not respond to Grist’s request for comment regarding this concern.

Apple’s Self-Service Repair Program allows owners of newer iPhone models to order genuine Apple parts and tools for basic smartphone repairs at home. apple

The self-service repair program is also limited in scope, offering parts, repair tools, and manuals only for Apple’s iPhone 12 and 13 lineup as well as the third generation iPhone SE — and for US customers only. But Apple says it will expand the program to other countries, as well as add guides and tools to repair M1 Mac computers, later this year.

Despite the limitations of Apple’s software, its existence is symbolically very problematic. “For good and bad, Apple has a significant influence over competitor behavior,” Nathan Proctor, who heads the Right to Reform Campaign at the nonprofit US research public interest group, told Grist. Proctor says Apple’s effective capitulation to the Right to Repair movement last year by agreeing to launch a self-repair store “has heightened tension at other companies”.

This includes Google and Samsung, both of which now have self-repair programs in operation. The Samsung program, which the company says is due to launch this summer, will allow owners of a Samsung Galaxy S20 or S21 smartphone or Galaxy Tab S7+ tablet to purchase original display assemblies (monitors with an installed battery), glass back, and charging ports via iFixit. iFixit CEO Kyle Wiens told Grist that Google’s program, which will make original screens, batteries and other parts needed to repair a Pixel smartphone available through iFixit, is also on track over the summer. Wiens says the companies have been enthusiastic partners in these programs, providing feedback on the latest iFixit repair manuals from Samsung and Google as well as developing a parts pipeline.

Different smartphones some open to show the battery and the inside, along with a mixture of different tools to repair phones
Google plans to provide original screens, batteries, and other parts needed to repair a Pixel smartphone through iFixit starting this summer. Andy Miller / iFixit

Green Century shareholder advocate Annalisa Tarizzo, whose company has also submitted a proposal to Google asking the company to increase access to the reform, told Grist that Google has agreed to meet with shareholders twice over the next year to “talk through more details” about the program. , something you see as a “good faith effort” to pursue it.

All of these programs — if and when they pay off — are small steps toward a world where consumers can repair and maintain their devices indefinitely rather than being forced to upgrade every few years. Human rights advocates say there is more that each of these companies can do to achieve such a future. For example, they can provide parts and repair documentation for more of their products: Tarizzo said she’d like to see Google expand its new partnership with iFixit to include Nest thermostats. Tech companies can also speak out in favor of the right to reform in congressional hearings and when providing public comment to agencies, and distance themselves from anti-reform lobbying efforts.

Even industry leaders like Dell, which designs some of the most salvageable devices out there as well as regularly publishes repair manuals, are still members of trade groups that lobby against repair-friendly legislation, such as TechNet and the Consumer Technology Association. Proctor told Grist that if companies that lead on reformability within their product lines take a more public stance by calling their trade groups or industry peers for retrograde positions upon reform, it could be a game-changer for the industry.

“If we really want to make a big difference to the sustainability of our electronics, we need to lead,” Proctor said. “We need companies that push the boundaries of what they can do.”

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