In late 2020, the Productivity Commission launched an inquiry into regulating a Right to Repair for certain consumer goods ranging, including smartphones. Here’s what Australian consumers should know about the inquiry and how it affects their smartphone purchases.
Why are Australians pushing for the Right to Repair?
Buying a handset in today’s market often comes with the tacit understanding that you’ll have to replace it sooner or later. While manufacturers entice consumers with new and improved features, they also gradually stop supporting older models and halt production of spare parts and accessories, making it difficult to hold on to the same device in the medium or long-term.
But the push to have devices repaired, rather than simply discarding them, has gained momentum in recent years, with Aussies calling on manufacturers to accommodate a Right to Repair for consumers down under.
Repair cafes, where Aussies gather to share tools and advice on how to repair everything from clothes to electronic goods, have grown in popularity across the country. Examples include the Victorian Repair Cafe and the Bower Reuse and Repair Centre.
However local repairers don’t always have access to the technologies, information, and replacement parts needed to repair a broken device. Further some manufacturers use digital rights management (DRM) software to prevent people from repairing their devices.
In most instances, the device must be sent directly to the manufacturer or authorised service providers for diagnosis before any kind of repair can be made.
Given the costs and trouble of authorised repairs, many handset owners find it cheaper and more convenient to replace their device rather than have it repaired.
Guardian Australia argues that consumers are finding it harder to repair their own devices, or at least find a third-party repairer who can fix electronics at a rate lower than what it being charged by phone manufacturers, as newer models have become more difficult to disassemble and some replacement parts can only function when installed by authorised repairers.
Apple, for example, has not commissioned new third-party repairers in Australia in the last five years. The company has also started manufacturing and distributing serialised parts that send notifications to mobile users when replaced or installed by third-party repairers after switching a repaired handset back on. Only authorised repairers using diagnostic tools provided by the company itself can fix Apple handsets.
Further extended warranties may not provide as much coverage as consumers are made to believe when they first sign up for them. According to Choice, a consumer advocate group, most extended warranties provide little to no benefit beyond the existing rights under the Australian consumer law.
A short history of Right to Repair
The Right to Repair was first introduced in Massachusetts in the United States in 2012 when car owners and repairers demanded access to spare car parts. 20 other U.S. states followed suit, though attempts to introduce the Right to Repair have been systematically challenged in court by Apple, Microsoft, and other companies.
In Europe, the Right to Repair legislation is being driven by the repair movement with a strong environmental agenda and a European Union (EU) directive mandating manufacturers to design goods that are easier to repair and therefore help reduce waste. Manufacturers could be required to make spare parts available for 10 years depending on the kind of goods they’re producing.
This has challenged companies and manufacturers that are accustomed to generating profits through “planned obsolescence” and embedded or copyrighted proprietary software, making it nearly impossible to have their products repaired by independent repairers or the consumers themselves. This business practice is quite common among manufacturers of personal gadgets, home appliances, cars, and even agricultural equipment.
Current repair options for mobile users
The Productivity Commission is still inquiring on the Right to Repair in Australia, and how consumers can get their handsets repaired by independent repair centers independent of Apple, Samsung, and other major device manufacturers.
In the meantime, what are your options if your handset breaks? It will depend on the type and age of the handset, type of breakage, and other factors:
- Device type and model – The repairability of your handset largely depends on the type and age of the device. Older and lesser known models might be more difficult to repair if replacement parts and the necessary tools and software needed to repair them are scarce.
- Type and extent of damage – According to iFixit, some of the most common types of phone breakages include screens, batteries, cameras, and charging ports. The make and model of your phone will determine how easy it is to repair. Beyond those issues, however, repairability will be more limited, depending on the device. Less common types of breakages include water damage and phone explosions.
- Cost of repair – According to repair company Fix2U, the general cost of screen, camera, and battery replacements range from $79 to $200, depending on the kind of repair needed. If anything other than the screen or battery needs replacing, companies like Apple are likely to charge consumers close to the cost of buying a new phone outright, and will instead offer them a refurbished model.
- Warranty – If your handset has a defect and you haven’t broken it yourself, the manufacturer must offer to repair, replace, or refund it within the one-year warranty period from the time of purchase.
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