Consumers find repairing devices difficult due to manufacturer restrictions

  • Apple iPhone 11 Pro.

HILO — Even as the state looks for ways to reduce waste, Hawaii residents seeking to prolong the lifespan of their electronic gadgets have been stymied.

According to a study by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund, a consumer advocacy nonprofit organization, more than 300,000 Hawaii residents conducted online searches attempting to repair personal devices and appliances last year.

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However, many manufacturers have made it nearly impossible to repair devices without assistance by the manufacturer itself, often at a substantial markup, said Jim Crum, owner of Paauilo tech-support business Geeks for Good.

“When people need to fix their phones, a lot of the time you need specific tools that only the manufacturer has,” Crum said. “And you can’t get those tools, so you have to send the phone in to them.”

Crum says he is a supporter of the “right to repair” movement, which seeks a legislative solution that would require manufacturers to make diagnostic and repair information and tools available at a fair cost.

According to the study, 30 percent of repair searches last year in Hawaii were seeking repairs for cellphones, with Apple as the most common manufacturer involved in those searches.

Apple products are notoriously troublesome to repair, Crum said, adding that he tends to avoid repairing iPhones these days.

Apple generated controversy in 2017 when it was revealed that an iOS update intentionally slowed down phones with older batteries, and attempted to hide that information from consumers. When it was discovered, Apple offered a discount on replacement batteries throughout 2018, but their actions highlighted the heart of the reasoning behind the right to repair movement.

“I think a lot of us see the whole ‘warranty void if seal is broken’ as an outdated way of thinking,” Crum said. “When the cost of replacing a screen is almost as much as a new product, it’s not worth it.”

Although replacing a phone battery or screen is a relatively simple fix with the right tools and materials — which are often not provided to consumers or third-party repair services — users often replace an entire device after only a couple years, Crum said, leading to needless waste at a time when the state and county are actively trying to cut down on waste.

Compounding the problem is the fact that official manufacturer support is time-consuming in Hawaii, as replacement parts take longer to arrive, while a new device can always be found at the nearest retail store.

“We just want to make these things last as long as possible, and get rid of some of the barriers preventing that,” Crum said. “I think that legislation is the only way to make that happen.”

Two bills were introduced in the state Legislature this year that would have required equipment manufacturers to make repair information freely available to consumers or independent repair providers, and make necessary repair equipment available for purchase.

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However, both bills failed to move past initial committee hearings.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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