This article was co-authored by Ugo Vallauri, The Restart Project and Thomas Opsomer, iFixit
Visual: own canva desing, photo by Mark A Phillips
Presumably anticipating European legislation that will make it mandatory to supply spare parts to consumers, several smartphone brands have recently started making spare parts more easily available than they used to. Some are even collaborating with Right to Repair Europe co-founder and steering group member iFixit to do so. Does this mean that the right to repair our smartphones has finally arrived? Sadly, no. Many barriers remain, including repair-unfriendly design and lack of long-term software support. The latest example from Nokia is a case in point.
In 2022, smartphone giants Apple and Samsung as well as Google announced plans to sell genuine spare parts to users. It’s always a good thing for repair campaigners when the leading smartphone manufacturers make moves to embrace self-repair. However, the reality is not always as exciting as the announcements would lead one to believe. We’ve commented on the limitations of Apple’s programme before. The scope of products to which the Samsung programme applies is similarly underwhelming: it’s only available in the USA, and covers just a few models. In terms of spare parts available, it’s not all encompassing either, with batteries not being sold separately.
The latest brand to announce a self-repair programme was Nokia. They got a lot of media attention at the World Mobile Congress with the launch of their latest model, the G22, for which they put repair at the forefront of their messaging using the catchphrase ‘Quickfix repairability’ – leading many media outlets to see this as the pinnacle of a repairable phone and even prompting members to ask us whether the Right to Repair campaign endorses this product.
Indeed, similarly to what we’ve seen from other brands, the extended repair support for the Nokia G22 does represent a step in the right direction. HMD – the manufacturer of Nokia phones – makes available via iFixit some spare parts including the battery, and some official repair guides. These are two of the pillars of Right to Repair (although we’d like to see a larger selection of parts and of guides available). However, this does not mean that Nokia has fully embraced the Right to Repair as we understand it.
“The main problem with the new device is its design, which is not optimised for disassembly,” said Ugo Vallauri from The Restart Project. “For example, replacing the battery will take 35-60 minutes according to the official guide. Replacing the screen even requires a complete disassembly of the device, a process that can take as much as two hours – not exactly a “quick fix”. This is quite unfortunate, since screen repairs are the most common we see at community repair events – data from international events which we analyzed as part of the Open Repair Alliance shows that 41% of all repairs are screen replacements.”
“Enabling consumers to repair their devices is a first step, although the short software support contradicts these efforts,” commented Johannes Wild from iFixit. Indeed Nokia ships the device with an outdated version of Android, committing to only 3 years of security updates from launch (not from last sales of the model) – implying that it doesn’t think it’s worth investing in maintaining the device for longer. Also, Nokia is not publicly committing to making the parts available long-term. Will batteries and screens still be available when users need them beyond the 3 years of security updates?
In essence, Nokia is not yet doing everything that we expect to be legally required of all smartphones on the European market as soon as upcoming regulations enter into force. The new European regulations on “ecodesign” of smartphones and tablets, which we expect to be officially adopted in May, will require manufacturers to significantly raise the bar in terms of the range of parts available, design for repairability, durability of batteries, and long-term software support.
And even those requirements will not usher in the golden era of Right to Repair, as we have commented before. But at least what is now perceived as a bold move, will then become the self-evident reality that it always should have been.
As a campaign, we will continue to insist on ambitious regulations requiring all manufacturers to make long-lasting products that can be repaired easily and affordably.