The Future Of Electronics Repair – What does our tech repair industries future look like?
This week I led a panel at North America’s largest electronics repair event which was hosted in New Orleans. Thousands of repair, recycle and reuse companies from all across the world come to one building to discuss industry issues, topics and future plans. I specifically hosted a panel titled “How The Market Will Shift” which discussed ways in which the market is rapidly changing and how it will affect the electronics repair industry.
I was proudly joined by big names in our industry for our panel including:
Not everyone at the conference is on the repair side of our industry so I thought it would be important to begin by telling some stats about the industry before we talk about where our industry is going.
And lastly and maybe the most important stat listed from the circular vision for electronics report:
Now that we’ve talked a little bit about who we are, let’s talk about where we’ve been and some particular major milestones. The early 2000s saw the beginnings of the first repair shops.
So where is our industry going? There are three major pillars that our repair future will be built on.
These are just some of the many reasons why repairable electronics will become the norm not the exception.
Many electronic brands are slowly shifting towards more modular designs. Instead of replacing the entire frame, battery and motherboard during a laptop repair, many manufacturers are engineering with repair in mind allowing for individual parts to be replaced. A great example of this is the latest Microsoft Surface Pro tablets.
In 2017 the surface tablet was virtually unrepairable due to its everything glued in design, but every major component can be replaced on the latest model.
For years the major wireless service providers such as Verizon and AT&T have offered smartphone installment plans on 24 month terms, however last year both Verizon and AT&T switched to 36 month terms. This major change will result in consumers holding on to their devices for even longer durations.
Most smartphones need a battery replacement at or about the 2 year point of ownership, traditionally this was the point that consumers opted to trade in their device, but now millions of customers will be highly incentivized to replace their battery and this may be the first time they’ve done so.
In a world where devices are designed for a circular economy instead of a throwaway economy, the battery is one of the most significant components in determining long lasting products. The European unit would agree with my statement, which is why they have passed legislation to require batteries be modular and replaceable by 2027.
Whether you agree or disagree with the government mandates being passed left or right in our industry, it doesn’t change the fact that they exist and will continue to develop. It’s our job as industry leaders to adapt or die. In this next section we will discuss the many government tailwinds that are shaping the future of repair.
Since the great depression products have been manufactured and designed for single use, meaning for decades it was considered outlandish for most products including electronics to have multiple life cycles. However times have changed and governments around the world are stepping in to ensure our products are designed to minimally impact our environment.
In 2021, the French parliament passed the anti-waste and circular economy law which did several things including establish a mandated scoring system for electronics with a score of 1 to 10 based on how repairable the device is.This score is required to be displayed at any retail location and on any retailers site that sell any applicable electronic. On this slide you will see several products in french with their associated repair scores. In the bottom right hand corner you will see the specifications for Apple’s latest iPhone 15, which scored higher than previous models.
So why is this index important? For starters, it’s a prime example of the major push towards a more repairable future that governments across the globe are ushering in. Repair mandates or legislation have been introduced in the US, Canada, India, The European Union and more. USB C mandates, Repair Indexes, and requirements on the expected useful life of electronics are just the beginning.
Nathan Proctor and the folks over at the public research institute group discovered some interesting trends that have occurred with the OEMs since the repairability index has gone into effect.
The European Union has already passed legislation requiring phones, tablets and cameras to have a USB C port, but some of their more radical proposals have been to mandate software upgrades for at least 5 years and to ensure the availability of repair parts for 7 years. I’m not on this stage to debate whether or not these individual laws are good for innovation or the general public, but one thing is for sure, these laws aren’t going away any time soon. With that being said.
To be successful at anything you must have the correct measurements. For repair accessibility there are two important measurements that will determine how successful the future of repair is: affordability and local service options.
If you had told the average consumer or repair shop owner 10 years ago that Apple and Samsung both would offer independent partner programs that allow customers to go into their local repair shop and get OEM quality repairs on their gadgets… they wouldn’t believe you. And yet here we are. Today both Apple and Samsung have independent service provider programs that allow independently owned stores and franchisees to buy OEM quality parts and tools directly from the manufacturer. My company XiRepair is proud to be both an ISP and IRP member.
In a conversation I had with Apple on stage in Nashville, TN I was told that there are over 2,000 independent service providers in Apple’s network, which makes their independent channel much larger than their own non independent service network. This trend for independent service providers to offer the majority of out of warranty repairs is consistent with other industries like the auto repair industry in which over 70% of all out of warranty repairs are completed by independent auto repair shops.
Today both Apple and Samsung have repair programs offered to independent service providers across the US. For the first time in the history of the electronics repair industry local mom and pop shops, small franchises and the independent repair community at large have the tools and parts to offer legitimate OEM quality repair services to their customers. This is a game changer because it not only legitimizes the independent repair community but gives us a future… a very bright future.
One of the best parts about local service providers competing in our industry is that more choices ultimately lead to more affordable repairs which leads me to our next slide.
Newer model devices are becoming more modular. For example, the iPhone 14 was redesigned to easily allow for a back glass replacement without taking apart the entire phone.
The back glass replacement on an iPhone 13 with an OEM part cost $499 according to apple’s website, but an iPhone 14 back glass replacement only costs $169.
Since cost is the most important measurement in the formula for calculating how accessible a repair is for consumers. Lowering the cost for a repair results in more affordable and thus more accessible repairs.
“The Earth Can’t Wait and Neither Can We” – A great quote from the Act Different spoof of Apple’s latest iPhone 15 launch conference. Watch the great spoof of how future iPhones could look: https://actdifferent.net/
There is an obvious repair cost improvement on the more modular devices that we see in some OEM product lines. As devices become more expensive and repairs become more affordable, customers will flock to save their devices. Not only is the appeal of new devices dwindling for obvious reasons, but consumers are choosing to spend their hard earned money wisely.
I’m glad that the majority of our industry has come to a consensus that the customer’s ability to access repair options as they see fit is a right… whether via self repair, an authorized mail in provider or an independent local shop.
In the end, electronics repair is the only way we can assure in a circular economy, but its also the most appealing method to achieve higher customer satisfaction among consumers. I’ve never seen a more happy customer than when their iPhone screen has just been replaced for a fraction of the cost of a replacement with a genuine OEM screen directly from Apple… they are ecstatic.
Repair is the future and that future is bright.
Learn more about the electronics reuse conference here – https://www.e-scrapconference.com/mobile-repair-day