At the time, it was the norm that laptops could be opened up, batteries easily replaced (often without even opening up the laptop), and RAM and storage replaced or upgraded. But these innovations — like soldered and glued components, ostensibly in service of a more compact and sleek device — put an end to these options.
Where Apple goes, inevitably, its competition follows. At the time of writing, a good number of non-Apple laptops, especially the premium ones, including Dell’s XPS line and HP’s Envy and Spectre lines, feature some (even if not all) of the anti-repair features pioneered by Apple, including soldered storage and RAM. Repair website iFixit has a . A quick glance will show that apart from Microsoft’s 2017 Surface Laptop, the bottom half of the ranking is locked out by Apple laptops, with the more recent models all scoring a 1/10 for repairability.
The benefit for a company like Apple is manyfold. Firstly, you are compelled to pay up for the Apple extended warranty, which can cost upwards of Rs 20,000 for a laptop that costs Rs 92,000 (other companies sell extended warranties for roughly one-tenth that price). And secondly, if you spill water on your Macbook Pro, your repair bill might seriously push you to consider buying another laptop, most likely the newest Macbook Pro.
Here it is worth remembering that below the premium laptops, there are still a number of models available (including the Acer Aspire 5 and the Asus Vivobook Ultra) that offer upgradeable RAM and storage. Personally, this is a feature that I would put at the top of my list when I am shopping for a computer.
Coming to phones, the situation is even bleaker. Here again, while Apple was the pioneer of the sealed unibody design, now virtually every other manufacturer has followed suit. Almost every smartphone you can buy now needs to be taken into the shop to get fixed. In fact, unlike their laptops, Apple’s phones are right now more easy to repair, according to , than competing devices. That said, even this ease of repair is quite relative (the highest score you’ll see is a 6/10), which means that for the vast majority of consumers, there’s no option but to take the device into a service centre.
On the plus side, partly as a result of this monolith approach, more and more phones now offer water resistance, so the need to go running to a service centre after a spill or dunk is far lower.
There is also a very minor concession offered by manufacturers like Samsung, Xiaomi and OnePlus, where they list out the component prices for each phone on their website so at least users have an idea of what they are in for. For instance, I know that if I need a new battery for my OnePlus 6, it’ll cost me Rs 1,135 plus labour charges. Even if I can’t swap out the battery myself, I can at least make an informed choice about long-term ownership costs without jumping through too many hoops. Of course, this is far from ideal, but one is left with little choice.
The moral of this familiar and sad story is that companies will continue to make devices difficult and expensive to repair, and it’s up to us as consumers to exercise whatever little choice we have to pick devices that offer a little more ease or economy in terms of repairability and upgradability, both for our own benefit and to try and nudge the industry in a more consumer-friendly direction.
Contact the author on Twitter at @vinayaravind.