Apple, Samsung, Microsoft products among least repairable in Greenpeace report

Dell, Fairphone, and HP are the only companies that make spare parts and repair manuals available to the public, while products from brands such as Apple, Samsung, and Microsoft are among the least easy to repair and upgrade, according to Greenpeace’s latest IT product guide

Greenpeace, in partnership with iFixit, assessed over 40 best-selling smartphones, tablets, and laptops launched between 2015 and 2017. Seventeen IT brands were represented in the study. The assessment is based on iFixit’s repairability score, which considers the time required to repair the product, the device’s upgradability and modularity, as well as the availability of spare parts and repair manuals.

“Of all the models assessed, we found a few best-in-class products, which demonstrate that designing for repairability is possible. On the other hand, a number of products from Apple, Samsung, and Microsoft are increasingly being designed in ways that make it difficult for users to fix, which shortens the lifespan of these devices and adds to growing stockpiles of e-waste,” says Gary Cook, IT sector analyst at Greenpeace USA.  

Some key findings of the product guide are:

  • Trending away from repairability: Design complexity, combined with the practice of soldering or gluing separate pieces together, makes repairing time consuming. Samsung and LG’s smartphones and Apple’s laptops have become increasingly less repairable in the last five years.
  • Non-replaceable batteries: Nearly 70% of all devices tested had batteries that were impossible or difficult to replace due to design decisions and the use of strong adhesives to affix the battery to the casing. Samsung’s Galaxy S8 smartphone and Apple’s Retina MacBook exemplify this practice, with batteries thoroughly adhered to the device panels. While the Note7 was not considered in this analysis, Samsung might have been able to avoid recalling millions of devices if the phone’s design had enabled easy battery removal.
  • Non-standard tools: To discourage user repair, non-standard tools are increasingly required for working with proprietary screws and other parts. Apple’s iPhone and Huawei P9 are just some of the devices that require special tools to conduct repairs.
  • No access to repair manuals or spare parts: Very few electronics manufacturers provide users with information about how to fix their products. Out of the 17 brands represented in the survey, only three—Dell, Fairphone and HP—provide all spare parts and repair manuals.

“Electronics take a massive amount of energy, human effort, and natural resources to make,” said iFixit CEO Kyle Wiens. “And yet, manufacturers produce billions more of them every year—while consumers keep them for just a few years before tossing them away. E-waste is one of the fastest growing waste streams in the world. We should be able to make electronics a more sustainable part of our lives.”

Greenpeace is calling on the IT sector to design products that can be more easily repaired or upgraded and offer adequate post-sale support. This could be done by making repair accessible and affordable, making spare parts, particularly batteries, displays and other components with high failure rates, available to customers for at least seven years and by promoting standards and laws that encourage product repair.