Our analysis of 14 popular consumer devices shows that most can stop working within 3 to 4 years because the batteries are not replaceable. This is how we ask the technology industry to design products that last longer – and are less harmful to the environment.
Is that just how technology works? No, that’s just how tech companies make more money from you.
We users want electronics that are easy to use, beautiful – and long-lasting. So in my hunt for ways to make technology work better for us, I’ve been trying to figure out when my 14 devices are going to die. I found that most of them can disappear within three to four years. And half of them are designed to be thrown away. You can see all the details in my utility graveyard.
Having to keep buying upgrades and replacements is annoying and it’s bad for our budget. Even worse, it is an underlying factor in our environmental crisis. But I have some ideas on how we can change that by forcing the tech industry to come clean.
Here’s the tech industry’s dirty little secret: “Almost every device these days has a battery that’s about to wear out, and it’s a dead clock built in,” said Kyle Wiens, CEO of the company. repair community said i fix it. Today, there are batteries in everything from your toothbrush to your vacuum cleaner. They are consumable products, like printer ink or tires.
But buying devices with built-in batteries is like buying a car where you can’t change the tires. We just don’t realize that we’re doing it or how it’s contributing to our climate and sustainability crises.
Gadgets don’t consume as much energy as airplanes and cars, but the damage they do comes from making and disposing of them. The creation of new devices requires the extraction of raw materials such as cobalt, often at a great cost to humans. Disposing of old appliances is expensive and is promoting a rash of dangerous battery fires in trucks and recycling centers.
And according to Apple, of all the carbon emissions its products produce to the earth over their lifetime, 70% come only from the manufacturing process. That means every time you buy a new device like a laptop, you’re adding hundreds of pounds of carbon to the sky before you even turn it on.
We users want electronics that are easy to use, beautiful – and long-lasting.
But even if you want to buy long-lasting devices, you often can’t tell when a product’s battery might die. Of course, devices fail for a variety of reasons, but a dead battery is a built-in dead clock.
That’s why I’ve spent six weeks pushing some of the world’s biggest corporations to find the basics of some of our favorite gadgets:
- First, how many charges can a product’s battery take – or “cycles” until its capacity drops to 80 percent? “After that, they were defined as dead,” because the capacity began to plummet, explains Bass Flipsena lecturer in industrial design engineering at Delft University of Technology.
- Second, when that inevitable day arrives, what can consumers do to replace the battery?
Nearly half of the companies I contacted — including Sony, Dyson, Logitech, Google-owned Fitbit, Amazon, Therabody, and Samsung-owned JBL — refused to answer or simply ignored specific questions. mine.
None of this should be a secret.
Is this ‘planned obsolescence’?
How do we end up with disposable gadgets? Let’s go back 20 years to the iPod.
Apple’s pocket music player rocked the world by putting thousands of songs in our pockets. But it was built differently from other mobile devices of its time: it had a sealed rechargeable battery inside.
After about 18 months, owners start to find their iPod can’t charge much anymore – and the complexity of replacing the battery makes most people reluctant to try. iPods are so desirable that many of us have bought a new one. I still have a death in the drawer.
It inspired one of the great acts of guerrilla utility activism: Casey Neistat, now a popular YouTuber, was so frustrated that his iPod battery died, he did. self-drawing a warning label on popular Apple billboards about the death of the iPod watch.
However, Apple continues to produce devices with sealed rechargeable batteries inside, including its most influential product, the iPhone. And whatever Apple does, other companies follow.
“We are part of the problem, because when we buy a product with a short shelf life, we send manufacturers the signal that making products with a long life span,” says iFixit’s Wiens. Short is fine.
How much of this is a grand scheme to keep us spending money? There’s a term for that: planned obsolescence.
I haven’t seen much evidence of smoky rooms where tech executives figure out how to make products fail. But disposable electronics are the product of planning. Marketers have had great success luring us with ultra-thin or waterproof products, both of which are easier to do with glued or soldered batteries. Flipsen, engineer said: “This is the simplest, fastest and most economical solution.
But other designs are possible, he said. For example, GoPro’s adorable action camera has a user-removable battery – and you can take it swimming. Samsung’s Galaxy Buds contain batteries Relatively easy to put in and take out. A company called Framework makes for a great laptop with modular, upgradeable parts that still weigh the same as the MacBook Air.
Apple has cleaned up its act in a number of ways. While the battery on the iPhone is still sealed inside, today you can ask Apple to replace it for $69. Apple’s laptops, which also have sealed but usable batteries, even provide a very useful way to see how many charge cycles you’ve burned. (Go to About This Mac > System Reports > Power and then you’ll see the Cycle Count. Most Macs are built for 1,000.)
But the $179 AirPods, Apple’s most successful new product in years, show that longevity is still not a top concern. If you show up at an Apple Store with a dead AirPod battery, they’ll only sell you new batteries. (Apple wouldn’t comment when I asked why.)
Sadly, I see many other devices that are also designed to be trash. The battery in my Philips Sonicare toothbrush is not only non-replaceable, but it’s fixed inside so firmly that the manual says you have to get a hammer to throw it away (because the battery can cause damage to the battery). trash can fire). “The battery is securely placed, in the waterproof handle, for safety, durability, longevity and strong performance,” says Philips.
Many manufacturers advertise their recycling programs as a sign of their environmental commitments. For example, Amazon doesn’t offer battery replacement for Fire tablets that are out of warranty, even though they do offer customers a 20% discount on new Fire tablets if they send them in used.
But recycling is not the solution it can be. Recyclers can only recover a small fraction of the critical raw material that turns into an old piece of equipment. “You simply can’t melt a truck full of old smartphones to make a truck full of new smartphones,” says Wiens.
Much of the industry is based on the idea that we will continue to upgrade. “These companies have built their business model around a faster rate of replacement what consumers want,” said Ugo Vallauri, co-director of the UK-based company. Restart the project, in favor of repairable electronics. “They really find it very difficult to see a future where they can prosper while meeting the challenges the planet and consumers are posing for them.”
The best thing for us and for the environment is that we can keep the devices longer. For that to happen, we will need information.
So let’s revive Neistat’s radical act of transparency and claim to know when engineered devices die. If companies don’t clean up on their own, let’s ask for a label right on the shelf that lists the number of times the battery is recharged and the cost of replacing it. The Federal Trade Commission already has the power to require different labels on products – why not batteries?
We can also draw inspiration from France, which starting in 2021 requires some product categories to be includes a repairability score, rated from 1 to 10. You cannot miss it when you are shopping. And there are already signs that companies must change the way they design their products – because they now have to compete on longevity as well as price and other features.
In the United States, we are poised to soon have legislation giving consumers the right to repair products. That means even if the battery is sealed inside the product, its manufacturer must still sell replacements and share repair instructions.
However, some environmentalists say we cannot leave tech companies to make design decisions that are important to the planet. Jean-Pierre Schweitzer, a senior policy official at European Environment Agency, a network of environmental organisations, is part of a group trying to get European lawmakers to ban non-replaceable batteries. “End users and independent operators can replace batteries with commonly available tools,” he said.
According to the organization of SchweitzerJust smartphones and tablets with replaceable batteries would save European consumers $20 billion and reduce the industry’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2030 alone.
However, the devil is in the details: Should we ban internal batteries altogether – or do any batteries require special tools to remove? Some in the tech industry have protested that they should be exempted from products designed to operate in “wet conditions”. But that reasoning can be applied to any mobile device.
We must also consider our responsibilities in confronting the environmental crisis. As a professional gear buff, I fully understand the allure of upgrades.
But we have to push back against the marketing machine that makes the annual product update cycle feel like anything other than raw consumerism. The reality is, upgrades often offer very few new features. A classic quote is in the tagline “best iPhone ever”. Did anyone expect it to be worse than last year’s model?
We need to transform our relationship with technology. Not so long ago, people used to assemble radios and computers at home, so they knew how they worked – and how to keep them working for the long term. Today, it is forbidden to crack a computer just to see what’s inside.
It’s a good thing that technology is now more accessible. But if you can’t simply replace the battery into something you own, does it really belong to you?