Apple and upgradability/repairability

Every time Apple releases new hardware, iFixit is at the ready with their famous tear downs and as of late, their repairability scores. Generally I am skeptical of companies that issue press releases giving Apple a bad score about something because I think they’re doing it for attention (looking at you, Greenpeace). iFixit might be even more guilty of this given that their business has a vested interest in things being repairable since they make their money selling parts.

But I have grown to believe iFixit plays a great role in keeping Apple in check and reminding the public of the cost of super thin and portable computers, even if it becomes tiring to hear the same tired tune playing every time new Apple hardware is released.

Apple’s priorities are clear. Their portables are, above all, highly portable machines. Apple finds it to be of great importance to push themselves to keep making the machines thinner. That’s great because competitors tend to follow Apple’s lead when making their own ultra thin notebooks. If something comes along and it’s in conflict with making the laptop thinner, Apple’s probably going to let thinness win out. In the past, Apple has successfully made their laptops even thinner while making repair ability even better (see the 2008 Unibody machines). Apple was able to make the machines thinner and also enhance repairability and upgradability. And that was a huge enhancement over previous generations which were sacrificing those things to make the machines as thin as they became. It’s not unheard of to think in a couple of years the technology will have pushed the fold enough so that the laptops can be even thinner yet still more repairable.

Making repairability a top focus would also bring with it the tacit expectation that it’s okay for parts to fail and that they’re going to fail. Likewise, making upgradability a top focus brings with it this tacit admission that the computer could be faster but the manufacturer chose to hold it back. Apple’s putting in the best and fastest parts from the get go. And they are putting lots of expertise into machining a laptop that is vastly less failure prone because it’s made with fewer parts that are more integrated. To me, making a laptop that is less failure prone in the first place is a far better goal than focusing on making it easier to repair.

And Apple is thinking about the life cycle of the product, too. They know it has a finite lifespan and so they have put greater efforts into making their stuff using highly recyclable materials. I don’t think Apple has a civic responsibility to sell you a laptop loaded with expansion slots, but I do think they have a responsibility to sell you a laptop that isn’t some day going to end up in a landfill seeping toxic chemicals into groundwater.

At the same time, they are doing some things that make me say “really, Apple?” Using adhesives, for instance, to hold the machine together and to hold the battery in place. I found that it responsible, and the adhesive probably makes the machine a lot more hard to recycle. A previous me would have said Apple is just using a better part by switching to Pentalobe screws (they probably don’t strip as easily was my rationale). It’s become more obvious that Apple is just doing this to be a pain for those trying to service their own machines and it’s stupid of Apple to think that switching screw types really had any effect on how many people crack their phones or computers open.

Some might argue that soldering RAM onto the logic board is just an attempt at planned obsolescence. After all, two boards manufactured on the same day with different amounts of RAM will become obsolete at different times by this very virtue, no? That fact does bother me but let’s b real. Obsolescence isn’t planned. It’s inevitable. However, Apple could be more responsible by simply selling every machine with the maximum amount of memory embedded in the logic board and making that available at a better price afforded by Apple buying in bulk.

Apple isn’t perfect, but I trust them to eventually do the right thing more than I trust most companies to. I’d like to see iFixit do a better job of trying to improve the landscape. Instead of just giving Apple an F which doesn’t exactly make Apple jump to want to talk to them about it, iFixit should instead make some small next step improvement suggestions that would make them feel more at ease. I’ve seen Apple respond very positively to constructive suggestions and they often implement them. The angry mob approach tends not to work as well.

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