The next big must-have phone feature? DIY repairability

Performing a highly technical demonstration in front of a live audience of journalists is always a risky move on the part of a technology company. You can almost guarantee that technology will fail you at the exact moment you need it to perform at its best.

But not this time. Nokia’s head of product marketing Adam Ferguson took the brave and somewhat bold step of replacing the battery of one of the company’s three new budget phones live on camera, while giving on-looking press a running commentary on exactly what he did and why it’s so important. .

Ferguson promised it would take him less than 5 minutes to complete the battery transplant, and while we can quibble over a few seconds anyway, he fundamentally proved a man of his word.

“If someone like me – who’s not particularly good with his hands, as you’ve probably seen from some of my shaky handling there – can do that while talking to you all, hopefully it shows that absolutely anyone can,” shared he us during the demo, which took place practically, in the week before the Mobile World Congress.

The Nokia G22, now awake after a major operation performed by an amateur before our eyes, is designed with repairability at its core. Thanks to a partnership with technology repair company iFixit, owners of this phone, announced at MWC in Barcelona on Saturday, will be equipped with guides and support for fix their phones themselves When the time comes. All they need is a guitar pick and a #00 screwdriver.

That puts Nokia, which isn’t even among the top five global smartphone brands, ahead of the game this week at the world’s biggest mobile trade show, where sustainability is a major theme. In conjunction with the global climate crisis, the problem of e-waste has become an increasingly pressing concern for technology companies and for consumers. Ensuring that the products we use have a long life and cannot be easily thrown away as soon as the battery starts to flop is an important step in reducing the environmental impact of our technology use.

“We’re already seeing people holding onto their phones longer,” Steven Moore said in an interview during the run-up to Mobile World Congress. Moore is head of climate action at the mobile industry body GSMA, which hosts MWC. He said the average lifespan of a smartphone has already stretched from two to three years. In addition, he added, people are showing more interest in repairing their phones, and are open to buying refurbished models in the first place.

Nokia is not the first to do this. Since 2013, Fairphone, a Dutch social enterprise, has been focused on trying to create modular phones that have a smaller environmental footprint. Since last April, Apple has also supported people who want to do DIY fixes on their iPhones, through its Self-service repair program.

But the difference right now is that DIY repairs are starting to shift from being a niche benefit to being a major headline feature on new phones. “As consumers increasingly demand more sustainable and longer-lasting devices, the ability to easily and affordably repair smartphones will become a key differentiator in the market,” said Ben Wood, principal analyst at CCS Insight, in a statement.

Nokia may not be the pioneer of the repair trend, but it is adopting the practice at an important time. This year at MWC, sustainability is taking center stage, as companies across the mobile landscape strive to reduce their environmental impact in line with GSMA’s goal for the mobile industry to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Any phone maker that doesn’t come to the show this year with a well-rehearsed set of arguments for why they’re not taking control of repair options for their devices should be prepared to face criticism, said Emma Mohr-McClune, principal analyst and practice leader at research firm Global Data. said in a statement.

“At the moment, operators are staying away from this argument, but at some point even operators will start demanding more choices in this regard,” she added.

With increasing pressure from consumers and from other areas of the mobile industry, it will be up to phone makers to respond by making it easier to replace device parts such as batteries and screens, which often bear the brunt of long-term use. But it’s important that they also don’t neglect software as part of this conversation.

When OnePlus launched OnePlus 11 earlier this month it extended its support period for up to four years of Android updates and an additional fifth year of security updates. Without the promise of long-term security updates like this, an otherwise decent phone could become useless.

Good future proofing also doesn’t lessen the responsibility on phone manufacturers to ensure that the devices are already as sustainable as possible before they even reach your hands.

According to Moore, 80% of the environmental footprint of a mobile phone has already occurred before you take it out of the box. “It really means we have to consider the actual emissions and environmental impact of the unit,” he said.

The long-term vision for future phones, as laid out in a GSMA strategy document released in November, is that our devices will one day will be 100% recycled and recyclableand made with 100% renewable energy.

“There’s no device at the moment that fits that description, but we’re already seeing really promising signs from some of the manufacturers on this,” Moore said. “There’s a lot the industry can do (and) I think we’re just at the beginning.”

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