The right to repair?

This week’s Fun Friday article is a little different. Instead of being rank silliness, it’s about something that some people think is silly, and others think is dead serious:

Should you be able to repair your broken electronics?

The last decade has been incredibly bad for people who want to repair or upgrade their electronics. If you look back to 2008 when a lot of people had desktop PCs, you had a lot of ability to fix something if it broke. A few screws and some parts swapping and you were in business. Your phone wasn’t far behind. Most phones had batteries that were easy to swap. You could also swap keypads and cases very easily on a lot of phones, and for the ultimate in upgradability some phones even let you change out the antenna.

During the Great Recession, when PC sales plunged and cell phone sales stayed flat overall, manufacturers looked for ways to cut costs and make their devices look cooler. The answer came with one four letter word, and not the one you might think of…


Not specifically Elmer’s Glue, but glue. PC and cell phone makers started taking screws out of their devices and started gluing them. This made for smaller devices without ugly screws. A win-win, most would say. Everything looked sleeker and worked just as well.

Until it didn’t, of course.

When your phone’s screen cracked, there was no way for average folks to fix it. When the battery ran down to nothing, there was no way to replace it. A lot of people didn’t care; they had gotten used to the natural cycle of upgrading or replacing every 18 months, because technology kept improving. Even the recession did little to stop the cycle of upgrades, although slowly people began to hold onto their devices for a longer period of time.

Stores started popping up specializing in fixing these unfixable things, and they’ve been doing all right…

Until they didn’t, of course.

Some stuff can’t be repaired.

It’s not just a matter of components that are too small for human hands to get at. In the name of privacy, some manufacturers started protecting their devices and making it impossible to repair them without very specific hardware. Then, they refused to sell the hardware. A perfect example is the Touch ID sensor in the iPhone. In order to keep the phone secure, Apple made it impossible to replace a Touch ID sensor without a device that only Apple had. I get it… if just anyone could replace a Touch ID sensor than it wouldn’t be very secure. However, since the Touch ID sensor was built into the screen’s sensor assembly, it also meant that the touchscreen would stop working in some cases, and the Touch ID sensor in others.

Today, there is so much inside your average phone or PC that just can’t be fixed if it breaks. Even if you could get into fix it, it would be pretty much impossible to put things back together. A year or so ago I got a Dell laptop that wouldn’t hold a charge. I was determined to see why. It took me an hour to carefully disassemble the laptop only to find that the battery, swimming in a pool of glue, was practically impossible to dislodge. And then I realized that the clips that held much of the insides together had been destroyed just by removing the components. Cut to the end of the story where I bring the laptop to a recycler, in a bag.

Sound off: is this right?

Some folks believe there should be a law that says that all devices, whether cars, computers, or shoes, should be repairable by anyone who buys the right tools. (And that the tools should be available.) Others say that stifles innovation and creates security problems. Who’s right?

I do get it, you can’t put advanced biometrics in a device and then make it easy to bypass them with just a screwdriver. Also, I love my iPhone X and I wouldn’t want it to be twice the thickness just so I could replace the battery if I wanted. I see both sides. What about you? Leave your comments below!

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.