Not exactly. In some instances, such warnings might even be illegal. On April 10, 2018, the Federal Trade Commission released copies of letters sent by the FTC to six companies. The companies included auto manufacturers, cellphone retailers, gaming console makers and computer companies. The FTC press release stated that warranty stickers and warnings in consumer manuals “generally are prohibited by the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, a law that governs consumer product warranties. Similarly, such statements may be deceptive under the FTC Act.”
You might have the right to repair your own equipment or to pay a qualified repair technician. This concept is called the “right to repair.” Just as you do not have to take a car to a manufacturer-owned or franchised dealer for new tires or an oil change, you should not have to take a cellphone, gaming console or computer to a specific site for repairs or upgrades.
A company might entice you with free maintenance or repairs, as some vehicle leases do, but they cannot mandate that you use a specific service.
“Provisions that tie warranty coverage to the use of particular products or services harm both consumers who pay more for them as well as the small businesses who offer competing products and services,” said Thomas B. Pahl, acting director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.
Seventeen state legislatures are now considering extending the right to repair. California is not among these states, likely because Apple, Google and other technology firms oppose these laws.
Apple and Samsung both mismanaged the public relations around smartphone failures. Apple failed to disclose that iPhones slow down as batteries age. Samsung tried to blame a series of fires on phone owners, not faulty batteries. In both cases, built-in, difficult-to-replace batteries presented problems for consumers.
Our first cellphones were Nokia 6000-series models. The phone charger held the phone and one spare battery, allowing us to keep spares charged for emergencies. The batteries were under $50 and lasted about a year.
Although batteries have improved a great deal, with leaps from nickel-cadmium (NiCad) to nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) and later to lithium-ion cells, NiCad batteries had to be discharged or they would not accept a full charge again. NiMH batteries have a tendency to expand and overheat, but they last longer and are more reliable than their predecessors. Today, the polymer versions of lithium-ion batteries allow companies to fit batteries into the cases of phones, tablets and computers. Lithium-ion is thinner, lasts longer and survives more recharge cycles. Yet, all batteries eventually die.
Knowing that the best batteries widely available have an optimal life expectancy of three years, technology companies hope that consumers replace battery-powered items before the hardware fails. The solution is obvious to many consumer advocates: Offer replaceable batteries again.
Smartphone designers argue that consumers want lighter, smaller phones with batteries that last a day or more. To cram a battery into these phones, the batteries are non-standard shapes. Making standardized batteries with connectors and clamps adds several millimeters to a phone, as the phone and battery have two layers of plastic between them. Computer companies offer the same explanation for offering fewer models with swappable batteries.
Because people now use phones in all weather conditions, manufacturers claim that water-resistance is a necessary feature. Removable batteries are less water-resistant, even with a rubber seal.
Would people trade a few millimeters for upgradable phones? I believe that some would, but the device manufacturers know the sales trends better than I do.
I understand the battery debate, as much as I wish we could have it all: Thin, light, durable and replaceable. Such technologies will emerge, especially with increased awareness of the environmental costs of disposable hardware.
However, I do not understand computers or gaming systems that don’t allow easy access to memory slots or storage. I’ve upgraded the memory in every MacBook and PowerBook that we’ve owned. I’ve also replaced the hard drives with solid-state drives. However, the top-tier computers from many vendors increasingly restrict user or third-party technician upgrades.
Upgrading memory should be quick and easy, via an access door on a laptop computer. Memory upgrades should not require removing 15 specialized tiny screws to access slots. It isn’t only laptops, either. All-in-one computers from several vendors make upgrades difficult. Apple’s iMac line features access to memory, unless you buy the iMac Pro – the machine a user is most likely to want to upgrade.
Apple and Acer argue that you can expand a laptop or all-in-one computer using Thunderbolt ports and external devices. With chassis expansions, you can add external graphics adapters, expansion cards, storage and other features. But to use those devices, the laptop isn’t portable anymore.
I’m not asking for upgrades to every bit of hardware within a device. I understand that is unfeasible. What I expect is that computing systems be designed with memory and storage upgrades in mind.
Gaming system vendors make upgrading memory and storage at least as difficult as Apple does, although today’s game systems are basically home computers optimized for graphics. You need a putty knife and specialized screwdrivers to update some of the newest consoles. If you open the console, you supposedly void the warranty.
Why can’t game consoles have simple slide-off cases that reveal components for easy repairs and upgrades? Consoles don’t need to be light, and they certainly don’t need to be waterproof. There’s no excuse for current designs.
With the FTC and a large number of states now telling companies that they need to allow third-party repairs and some user upgrades, I’m hoping that the hardware companies change their design philosophies.
The most likely path to changing company designs is for California voters to demand that the state join others and adopt a right-to-repair law. If the state leaders won’t do this, then voters might need to consider the initiative process.
My wife and I are able to use computers for five or six years only because I can upgrade the memory and replace drives when necessary. When you buy something, you should have the right to keep it functioning for as long as possible.