War on DIY Electronics

Is electronics heading to be less and less hackable? DIY site iFixit has been keeping tabs on the tech world whilst providing handy self-repair guides for popular electronics. Now the site maintainers have seen trend that electronics products seem to become intentionally harder and harder to fix in recent years.

The New MacBook Pro: Unfixable, Unhackable, Untenable article tells that the Retina MacBook is the least repairable laptop we’ve ever taken apart: Unlike the previous model, the display is fused to the glass, which means replacing the LCD requires buying an expensive display assembly. The RAM is now soldered to the logic board — making future memory upgrades impossible. And the battery is glued to the case.

iFixit’s Kyle Wiens on How to Dismantle the War on DIY Electronics article tells that in recent years, Apple and other hardware manufacturers have made it liquid-crystal clear that they’re not fond of the idea that customers can tear open and fix products without the help of licensed repair specialists.

Wiens says “Consumers have to demand robust, reliable products.” Unfortunately, in the consumer tech industry, that rarely seems to be the case. Thus the cycle perpetuates, with manufacturers producing computers and gadgets that break down after several years and are quickly replaced with newer, similarly-specced machines.

Wiens said that if machines in other industries were to break down over a handful of years and couldn’t be easily repaired, consumers would openly revolt. In the electronics world, however, economics trump sustainability every time. Consumers aren’t the only ones getting ripped off — human rights and the environment are also taking a hit.

The upgradable computer is under attack. There are fewer upgradable laptops on the market these days thanks to their thin, “sealed” designs. Apple and every other PC maker on the planet are pushing thin laptops, not to mention even thinner tablets. Problem is, really thin computers are, by design, “sealed.” That means, fewer and fewer upgradable computers. And don’t expect things to improve. Freedom to Tinker is under attack. Even if repairing as easy as ordering a part online and following a few instructions gleaned from a Google search, hardware companies generally seem to prefer we keep the hood closed.

The New MacBook Pro: Unfixable, Unhackable, Untenable article tells that the design pattern has serious consequences not only for consumers and the environment, but also for the tech industry as a whole. The success of the non-upgradeable Air empowered Apple to release the even-less-serviceable iPad two years later: The battery was glued into the case. And again, we voted with our wallets and purchased the device despite its built-in death clock. In the next iteration of the iPad, the glass was fused to the frame. We have consistently voted for hardware that’s thinner rather than upgradeable.

Do we we have to draw a line in the sand somewhere or just watch the trend as it goes on?

24 Comments

  1. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Embedded batteries: Evil master plan, or elegant solution?
    http://www.edn.com/electronics-blogs/other/4376155/Embedded-batteries–Evil-master-plan–or-elegant-solution-?cid=EDNToday

    Apple is allegedly using built-in batteries, which are difficult for the average consumer to replace, because they guarantee that the purchaser will be ponying up for a new phone or tablet as soon as the battery starts to lose its charge capacity – usually after about 18 months.

    Pros and cons of embedded batteries

    The benefits are considerable and include:
    - Product designers can design a more aesthetic form without concerns about battery position, compartment, and cover.
    - It’s less likely the user will toss out an expired embedded battery
    - The embedded fuel-gauge is always in-sync with an embedded battery
    - Embedding the battery increases overall safety since cheap aftermarket batteries are less likely to be inserted

    There are also several drawbacks for embedded batteries:
    - First, it requires a robust system design with fail-safes to prevent or recover from system lockups.
    - Carrying a spare battery is no longer an option with embedded batteries.
    - Users who want extra run-time must use an external battery pack, making the phone bulky.
    - If the battery wears out, replacing an embedded battery usually costs more and is difficult to replace, versus simply buying and swapping out an accessible batteries.

    users are becoming accustomed to the idea of non-removable batteries in their consumer electronics.

    Reply
  2. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Select the right battery fuel-gauge for smart phones and tablets
    http://www.edn.com/design/power-management/4376050/Select-the-right-battery-fuel-gauge-for-smart-phones-and-tablets?cid=Newsletter+-+EDN+Weekly

    Smart phones and tablets are becoming indispensable as they gain more and more functionality. At the same time, the expectation is for these devices to become both thinner and cheaper. This requires balancing the competing objectives of both smaller batteries and increased usable capacity. To solve this dilemma a highly accurate battery fuel-gauge is needed. In this article we discuss the trends in smart phone and tablet design. We also identify how accurate fuel-gauging can increase customer satisfaction, reduce battery costs, and extract the maximum run-time.

    Reply
  3. Burl Aburto says:

    The consumer electronics industry is really flourishing these days mainly because there are a lot of electronics gadget being developed. ,,”‘, Thanks again

    Reply
  4. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Do You Have a Right to Repair What You Own?
    http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1386&doc_id=248499&cid=Newsletters+-+DN+Daily

    Companies, engineers, and product designers should keep their eyes on Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Right to Repair Coalition (MRRC), which comprises independent mechanics and parts retailers, has worked on a “right to repair” ballot initiative for the November 2012 election.

    If passed by voters, the law would compel vehicle manufacturers to make tools and repair information available for anyone to buy.

    Of course, the authorized auto dealers want to protect their profitable repair and service businesses.

    I remember a time when any shade-tree mechanic could go to the local library or auto parts store and buy a Chilton manual for his make and model car. The manual provides detailed repair and maintenance information, and I don’t recall any problems with “substandard knockoff” replacement parts.

    I figure if I buy something, I should have the option to repair it on my own.

    Reply
  5. Tomi says:

    How Nikon is Killing Camera Repair
    http://ifixit.org/1349/how-nikon-is-killing-camera-repair/

    On Monday, January 16th, Nikon Inc. sent a letter to independent camera repair technicians in the US to say that “it will no longer make repair parts available for purchase by repair facilities that have not been authorized by Nikon Inc. to perform camera repairs.”

    Eliminating the supply of parts will devastate many local repair shops—Nikon repairs make up a significant portion of their business—and will make it significantly more difficult for photographers to get their Nikon equipment fixed.

    If you depend on your camera for work, as Jarvie does, having to mail your camera in to be fixed will cost you more than just the price of the repair: lost business, shipping costs, and time lost waiting for the Postal Service to shuttle the camera back and forth.

    Plus, a major manufacturer limiting repairs to only their own approved repair shops doesn’t bode well for the future of camera repair in general. The more barriers to repair, the more likely people are to trash their broken stuff instead of trying to fix it. And if one major manufacturer successfully implements this new model (a model that is likely to make them some money—siphoning business from local repair shops is one way to increase profit, I suppose), other manufacturers may follow.

    Reply
  6. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Ultra-book manufacturers sales gimmick: a new machine in place of work, the battery can not be changed

    U.S. environmental and recycling organizations Electronics Take Back Coalition (Etbc), a recent report ( pdf ), this may shorten its useful life, and turnover.

    The battery usually lasts for 2-3 years. It certainly succeeds in changing a service center, but is quite expensive in many cases the device at the time.

    Often, your warranty is also tied to an authorized professional use

    Usually consumer’s mind easily find new device a viable option instead of repairing.

    The environmental impact of more and more, when the appliances replaced with new ones not just because of the batteries.

    Source: http://www.tietoviikko.fi/kaikki_uutiset/ultrabookvalmistajien+myyntikikka+uusi+kone+toimivan+tilalle+akkua+ei+voi+vaihtaa/a829598?s=r&wtm=tietoviikko/-17082012&

    Reply
  7. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Environmental group criticised for approving Macbook designs
    Greenpeace moans about EPEAT Apple bias
    http://www.theinquirer.net/inquirer/news/2217355/environmental-group-criticised-for-approving-macbook-designs

    ENVIRONMENTAL GUARDIAN Greenpeace has condemned the Electronic Products Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) for approving the latest Macbook’s glued-in battery design.

    The EPEAT has given the seal of approval to a group of ultrabooks that Greenpeace thinks will reduce electronics lifespan and lead to excessive e-waste.

    “Apple wanted to change the EPEAT standards when it knew its Macbook Pro with Retina Display would likely not qualify for the registry in July of this year. Now, EPEAT has reinterpreted its rules to include the Macbook Pro and ultrabooks,” said Greenpeace’s IT analyst Casey Harrell

    Reply
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    Reply
  9. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Intel’s Haswell Could Be Last Interchangeable Desktop Microprocessors – Report.
    http://www.xbitlabs.com/news/cpu/display/20121122022244_Intel_s_Haswell_Could_Be_Last_Interchangeable_Desktop_Microprocessors_Report.html

    As personal computers become smaller, their flexibility is decreasing. According to a media report starting from code-named Broadwell generation of processors, Intel Corp. will only offer mainstream desktop chips in BGA packaging, which will eliminate upgrade options as well as increase risks for PC makers.

    Both Intel and Advanced Micro Devices supply two different desktop platforms these days, making a very clear difference between mainstream and high-end desktop. Still, mainstream PCs with simplistic processors may easily be upgraded with very fast processors thanks to the fact that the chips are interchangeable and come in the same LGA1155 form-factor. Unfortunately, the ease of upgrade may come to an end in two years as starting from Broadwell generation of central processing units (CPUs) mainstream chips will cease to use land grid array (LGA) and micro pin grid array (µPGA) packages and will only be available in in ball grid array (BGA) form-factors, just like Intel Atom processors.

    According to Japanese PC Watch web-site, code-named Haswell microprocessors may be the last desktop chips in LGA packaging, which enabled easy switch of CPUs on mainboards. Starting from Broadwell chips, which are due in 2014, all mainstream desktop processors will be available in BGA packaging, which means that they will have to be soldered to mainboards, something that can be done in relatively sophisticated manufacturing facilities.

    Reply
  10. Annika Howington says:

    Good afternoon, this is completely new to me however, I find your blog page as well as its content a grate help in understanding the entire issue. I really wish that I come across even more beneficial resources on my future visit.

    Reply
  11. Tomi Engdahl says:

    The non-user-replaceable battery: a consumer electronics travesty
    http://www.edn.com/electronics-blogs/brians-brain/4402147/The-non-user-replaceable-battery–a-consumer-electronics-travesty

    The truth of the matter, of course, is the guaranteed obsolescence strategy built into the embedded design approach. After enough recharge cycles and/or a lengthy enough AC tether, the battery fails and most folks subsequently toss the widget and buy another one

    But for those few folks who dare to repair versus replace, why can’t Microsoft (and Apple, and pretty much every CE manufacturer) make the battery-to-system board tether a connector versus several tenuous solder points?

    And why can’t the process of getting to the battery in the first place be made more straightforward, too?

    Reply
  12. Dani Okitsu says:

    there is a very high demand for consumer electronics these days. ,

    Reply
  13. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Are products owned when bought?
    http://www.edn.com/electronics-blogs/outside-the-box-/4402888/Are-products-owned-when-bought-?cid=Newsletter+-+EDN+on+Analog

    A product sale involves an economic exchange between buyer and seller. The buyer gets the product and the seller is usually given money in exchange. The seller is free to do with the money as the seller chooses. The buyer is free to do with the product as the buyer chooses – or at least that is the ideal in a free market. When the buyer has freedom from the seller regarding the product for the time the buyer has it, that is what I call total ownership.

    In the early decades of electronics, before WW II, some manufacturers did not exercise an open-source policy. Companies such as those of Howard W. Sams and John F. Rider arose. They reverse-engineered products and offered a packet of technical information on them, oriented to the local radio-TV repair shop.

    The trend in recent decades has been an increase in the dependence of the buyer on the seller. Trends in technology might account for some of this. Microcontrollers are custom products because of the firmware they contain. Other customized or unmarked parts make the buyer dependent on the seller for replacements. Many manufacturers are now not only not disclosing information to the buyer in manuals or other technical literature, they will not do so when it is requested. The local radio-TV repair shops have all but disappeared, removing the market for reverse-engineered information. Their disappearance is in part a consequence of larger global economic changes, such as foreign manufacture of products at low cost.

    Instead of being repaired they are discarded and replaced, giving rise to repeat sales and the illusion that the product is low in cost to the buyer because of its low sale price. The buyer maintains a dependence on the seller to continue to supply the product.

    There is a need for a return to the open-source way of doing business in the sale of products.

    Reply
  14. Benito Perotta says:

    I read this piece of article and I thought it was quite interesting and helpful. I’ll share it with friends and family so they can enhance their knowledge about smartphones technology. Looking forward to more posts like this to check out.

    Reply
  15. Georgianna Blankinship says:

    I seriously love your website.. Very nice colors & theme. Did you develop this site yourself? Please reply back as I’m looking to create my own blog and want to know where you got this from or just what the theme is named. Thank you!

    Reply
  16. Neal says:

    Dear,

    Good day to you,my dear friend.

    I am Neal from HuiHong Electronic Co.,Ltd in Shenzhen,China. We can supply a large number of Apple Macbook/Pro/Air repair parts. Eg,AC Adapter, Motherboard, LCD Screen, Hinge,Hinge cover, Cable,Keyboard,Battery and so on. We wish we can became your vendor.

    Following is some repair part’s price.
    1. AC adapter: USD26 for 60W USD42.95 for 45W USD43.95 for85W USD100 to USD120 for Imac Power Supply 17″~27″
    2. Original Battery: USD43~USD70
    3. Motherboard: About USD320 to USD560. Please tell us what model you need, then we will give you the exact price.
    4. Keyboard: USD10 to USD30 Topcase with keyboard:USD45 to USD90
    5. Hinge: USD15 to USD25.6 Hinge Cover:USD14.5 to USD23
    6. HDD Cable: USD16 to USD28
    7. Glass:USD25 for 13” USD25 for 15”

    Now we have a new stock about iPhone5 ,Ipad3 &2012 Macbook pro/Air repair parts .
    1. A1278 2012 HDD Cable Brand New
    2. A1278 2012 Airport Card Brand New
    3. A1286 2012 Airport Card Brand New
    4. A1278 2012 LCD cable Brand New
    5. A1286 2012 LCD cable Brand New
    6. A1278 2012 LCD Back Cover 99%~100% New
    7. A1286 2012 LCD Back Cover 99%~100% New
    8. A1278 2012 Top case with US keyboard Topcase 100% brand new keyboard 99% new
    9. A1286 2012 Top case with US keyboard Topcase 100% brand new keyboard 99% new
    10. Macbook Air 13.3″ 2012 screen Brand New

    You can know more our products via our company website http://www.iphoneelec.com

    We can supply a large number of Laptop&iPhone&SAMSUNG&HTC&Blackberry& Game Console Repair Parts.
    We are looking forward to establishing mutual beneficial relationships with your company.
    If you have any question,please feel free to contact us. We are at your service any time.

    Best Regards,
    Neal
    HuiHong Electronics Co., LTD
    Tel: 0755-89572164/13423780490
    MSN:stevedirk4113@hotmail.com
    Skype:norrialhc
    Email:Neal@iphoneelec.com

    Reply
  17. Tomi Engdahl says:

    IFixit tablet repair index: Dell at top; iPad, Surface at bottom
    http://www.latimes.com/business/technology/la-fi-tn-ifixit-tablet-repairability-ipad-surface-20130228,0,277653.story

    IFixit, the California company known for its tech tear-ups and how-to-fix guides, has posted a helpful “tablet repairability list” that ranks tablets based on how easily they can be fixed.

    The list includes many of the most popular tablets and is a helpful guide for users looking to buy tablets that can be quickly fixed or upgraded with better parts.

    “Some may care that their tablets are easy to repair and upgrade; others may not,” IFixit said in a statement. “For those that do, we’ve aggregated our repairability scores for the best-selling tablets into one convenient page.”

    Reply
  18. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Tablet Repairability
    http://www.ifixit.com/Tablet_Repairability
    Our engineers disassembled and analyzed each tablet, awarding a repairability score between zero and ten. Ten is the easiest to repair.

    Reply
  19. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Forget the Cellphone Fight — We Should Be Allowed to Unlock Everything We Own
    http://www.wired.com/opinion/2013/03/you-dont-own-your-cellphones-or-your-cars/

    While Congress is working on legislation to re-legalize cellphone unlocking, let’s acknowledge the real issue: The copyright laws that made unlocking illegal in the first place. Who owns our stuff? The answer used to be obvious. Now, with electronics integrated into just about everything we buy, the answer has changed.

    We live in a digital age, and even the physical goods we buy are complex. Copyright is impacting more people than ever before because the line between hardware and software, physical and digital has blurred.

    But we really don’t own our stuff anymore (at least not fully); the manufacturers do. Because modifying modern objects requires access to information: code, service manuals, error codes, and diagnostic tools. Modern cars are part horsepower, part high-powered computer. Microwave ovens are a combination of plastic and microcode. Silicon permeates and powers almost everything we own.

    This is a property rights issue, and current copyright law gets it backwards, turning regular people — like students, researchers, and small business owners — into criminals. Fortune 500 telecom manufacturer Avaya, for example, is known for suing service companies, accusing them of violating copyright for simply using a password to log in to their phone systems. That’s right: typing in a password is considered “reproducing copyrighted material.”

    Manufacturers have systematically used copyright in this manner over the past 20 years to limit our access to information. Technology has moved too fast for copyright laws to keep pace, so corporations have been exploiting the lag to create information monopolies at our expense and for their profit.

    Fixing our cars, tractors, and cellphones should have nothing to do with copyright.

    Neighborhood car mechanics also see copyright as a noose constricting their ability to fix problems. The error codes in your car? Protected. The diagnostic tools used to access them? Proprietary software.

    New cars get more sophisticated every year, and mechanics need access to service information to stay in business. Under the cover of copyright law, auto companies have denied independent shops access to the diagnostic tools and service diagrams they need.

    Reply
  20. Who owns our modern stuff? « Tomi Engdahl’s ePanorama blog says:

    [...] owns our modern stuff? In my posting War on DIY Electronics I already told that that the trend is that electronics is heading to be less and less hackable. [...]

    Reply
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  23. Charlie in Oz says:

    G’Day Blogger, I am writing from Longreach Australia. We have had a lot of wind the last week and I’ve only just been able to connect to the blogsphere. Thanks so much for the interesting article. It assisted me a lot with my university design research :)

    Reply
  24. Efren Bilich says:

    Obzwar individuum schon weit geschrieben habe, welches zum Beispiel eine übereifrig erworbene und demnächst vernachlässigte Topfpflanze reduziert ist und daher so etwa so folgenschwer war, wie ein unbedeutendes Opus magnum eines unbedeutenden Künstlers, schlägt jener Schrifttum alles.

    Reply

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