President Biden orders FTC to draft right-to-repair rules

Originally published at: President Biden orders FTC to draft right-to-repair rules | Boing Boing


OH good. Now Ralph can get his Wookie fixed.



Apple can’t be pleased. This will put a dent in their current business model. Ironic, considering how the founders started out.


I can see a caravan of John Deere lobbyists queuing up at the White House.


If gluing parts becomes illegal, every portable electronic device just became 5% bigger, 10% more expensive, or both.


I thought Apple’s business model was selling products and services people wanted at prices they are willing to pay. If you want a waterproof phone and a replaceable battery, it will not cost or look the same as one that is sealed up. If people really want to unsolder and replace chips, they will be carrying around devices that don’t look the ones they are used to. Simply put, if there was a market for user-serviceable cars or electronics, someone would meet that need. But I’m not seeing any contemporary VW Beetles out there and I haven’t seen a tube testing machine in the drug store in a long time.

Someday people will understand that “planned obsolescence” isn’t really a thing. What does exist is price points and the quality level associated with them. If cars weren’t designed to last longer than 2-3 years, why am I driving 1995 and 1987 vehicles? You can keep things as long as you are happy with them. But if you as a consumer decide you want something newer, that’s not planned obsolescence.

As the old saying goes, you can’t reason someone out of a position they never reasoned themselves into. Planned obsolescence is just a way to blame manufacturers for our inability to maintain our things (change your oil regularly and your car will outlast you) or deny ourselves what we think we deserve. We can only blame capitalism for so much: every buying decision is a vote for the kind of things we want.

I’m not opposed to “right to repair” but I am also aware of what it could mean, in terms of what products will be made. I don’t see the other phone makers (who combined outsell Apple in every market) offering any products that allow user service. Or car makers who offer simple easy to service cars. What we get instead is cars with 10 quart sumps and long maintenance intervals, with infotainment and comfort features out the wazoo. Why has no one offered a simple electric car with 4 hub motors (AWD) and loads of range without all the brittle software Tesla has? Do we really want to use a touch screen to signal lane changes vs a self-cancelling stalk? Because as Dick Cheney told us, the American way of life is not negotiable. And that means you can get whatever you want, not what you need or can get by with.


It’s also about selling products that, for the most part, can’t be repaired or upgraded or even tinkered with (sometimes at the software level) and will have to be replaced by new products instead.

That wasn’t always the case with the company, but it is now.


My 2013 Macbook Pro needed a battery replacement in 2017. To do it by myself cost about $100, but to have Apple do it would cost at least 5x as much. I was able to do it myself, and nearly double the useful lifespan of the machine. It was difficult. I could have bricked the machine, but that was a risk I knowingly took.

The models that came out around 2018 had a chip that automatically bricked the machine if a component was replaced by a user. Not because the component didn’t work, but because it was designed so only an Apple tech was authorized to replace it. I see this as unfair. My self-repaired laptop did look the same as it would have if Apple repaired it. But if it didn’t? If I made it into a Frankensteined mess? That should be my right, since I bought it with my money and I own it. Just like I’m allowed to spraypaint the machine hot pink, if I choose.

I don’t think the choice is between a good product that only the company can repair, or an inferior product that can be serviced by the user. The user deserves the right to screw it all up, and the right to repair it correctly if they can.


Samsung and Motorola both make water-resistant phones with user-replaceable batteries.


That’s great; especially if they don’t know the way to the Capitol building.


Perhaps not, but about three years ago, I was able to take my ancient-of-days Samsung phone (Galaxy S4) to a repair shop to get the wonky charging port replaced, for much, much less than a new phone would have cost. I could have purchased the part online and attempted the fix myself, but I didn’t want to risk bricking the gadget if I made any mistakes. And it still works now (though I’m thinking about replacing it with a new-ish, refurbished phone due to memory issues.)

Even if newer phones and electronics aren’t user-service friendly, we deserve the option to take the devices that we have paid for and own to have them repaired wherever we choose, or to fix them ourselves, if we have the skills. Not everyone can, or should be expected to, keep up with the latest models, or be limited in where we can get maintenance done. If we’ve paid our device off, we own it, and we should have the option to fix it, or not, as we choose, not the manufactures… otherwise, we don’t really own them at all.

If the car industry ran the way the electronic industry does, you wouldn’t be allowed to change your own oil, fluids, tires, etc. You’d be obliged to take it back to the dealership for maintenance, every single time. If car ownership doesn’t work that way*, why should computer and cell phone companies be any different?

*I’m aware that leased cars get their maintenance at dealerships, but those cars are still technically the property of that dealership; they aren’t paid off yet, so the limitation is reasonable.


My S4 lasted 6 years because as a schmuck with no real electronics skills I was personally able to:

  • change the battery 3 times
  • replace the charging port twice
  • replace the camera once.

The extra thickness from a removable back didn’t affect my experience with the phone in the slightest.

I had to buy a custom screwdriver just to clean the dust out of my macbook fan.


“Splash resistant” is a low bar.

Again, if there was a market for this — for the devices or the parts — someone would meet it. I get that some vendors will fix some selected parts of some models (thereby admitting they f*cked up in the first place (see Apple’s iPhone 6 battery replacement deal) and don’t want a class action suit) but where is the open phone, user-serviceable, with an open source OS?

Part of the reason for vendors limiting what parts can be replaced or who can do it is to make sure people get what they paid for: if you buy a phone from company C and get the screen replaced by some guy on craigslist, who will get the bad press if it doesn’t work? Shadetree Joe or the company whose name is on the back? Even rapacious Apple offers pretty low-cost repairs (I got a camera replaced for about $50 a couple of years ago) and a battery replaced for $25 as part of their settlement deal over the iPhone 6. Helping make sure people get what they paid for has been one of my favorite arguments for legalizing drugs…if stuff is subject to the same rules and regs as other products, quality should go up or at least be measurable.

/Ron Burgundy gif “I don’t believe” you have no real electronics skills. Most people I know wouldn’t even attempt that.

The market will meet demands that pencil out. Yes, it occasionally puts its thumb on the scale but by and large, if people want a thing, someone will make it, though that gets harder in this era of expensive manufacturing.

I really hoped there would be an Open Phone, like the old days of Linux, where you could buy hardware that you knew was supported and build what you liked or you could take old “obsolete” hardware and compile a kernel that gave it new life. But despite all the well-funded competitors — Samsung, MSFT, Google — I don’t see anyone offering that.

The simple fact is that not everyone is An Enthusiast who cares that much. These things are not quite disposable but certainly temporary. No one expects them to last. And that’s not their fault. Don’t hate the player, hate the game, but see the game as more than the vendors: it’s the larger society, not the device makers.

If people would admit “yes, I should never have tried to fix it” that would work. But have you met people? They won’t admit that. And the vendor will have to eat a lot of repair costs to cover people who won’t admit their responsibility to ensure that those same customers won’t teach them or worse file a suit.

Once you have dominant market share you try to keep the same customers on the hook as long as possible, and the equation you use to bring customers in (offer goods at prices people will pay for it) leaves the room. The whole concept of driving margin ratios as high as the tech sector does is reliant on high turnover of high profit electronics. It’s also why being folded into a community based around a product line tends to be an extremely unwise financial decision.


I beg to differ.

Let me offer you a simple example. I once bought a Braun shaver that had a replaceable blade unit. It worked fine, and I owned it for years, replacing the blades and screens as necessary.

One day the razor was no longer on the store shelves. They were selling new models, which took different blades.

The next time I bought a replacement blade, my shaving went from “fine” to “yank my stubble out painful”. Comparing the blades side by side, it was apparent that the blades were being given slots, but the slots weren’t ground to sharpened edges like the previous blade. They were just cut at right angles. Thinking it was a factory defect, I exchanged the blade for a replacement, which also had the identical non-sharpened “blades”.

I’m sure many people ponied up for the new shaver, blaming the fault on “my old shaver must be worn out.” And Braun execs just laughed to the bank.

I ended up buying disposables, even though I hate them, and they’re just as much of a racket as the shaver industry.

That was engineered obsolescence, plain and simple.


How many years? and how many years was a reasonable expectation for whatever you paid? And did you consider that electric shavers are by design subject to improvement? Why does anyone expect that Braun or anyone will continue to support the handful of people who use old products but would never pay the real cost of the parts at the low value needed?

Who are you saying has dominant market share? If you are going to say “Apple” let me remind you that iOS 15, due in September or thereabouts, will support devices all the way back to the iPhone 6.

The iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus are smartphones designed and marketed by Apple Inc. It is the eighth generation of the iPhone, succeeding the iPhone 5S, and was announced on September 9, 2014 and released on September 19, 2014.

Seems like a clever monopolist wouldn’t support 7 year old hardware with it’s latest (free) OS and app versions.

The Samsung I linked has the same IP68 rating as the latest iPhones. The Moto doesn’t, but it is also only $150 new unlocked.

Waterproof isn’t so hard; you can buy a Vostok diving watch for $70 that will legitimately work for the listed purpose.

If you design a phone whose battery is not user replaceable, you don’t expect it to be used past whichever is longer, the battery life or the warranty period. This seems self-evident. Whether or not other phone manufacturers share Apple’s cynicism here is irrelevant to the argument made upthread.

(Edited to correct spelling.)


Then explain why I’ve had to buy a new washing machine every 5 years yet my parents still use the same machine they bought in the mid 80s?