FTC puts hardware makers on warning for potential ‘unlawful repair restrictions’

As phones and other consumer devices have gained feature after feature, they have also declined in how easily they can be repaired, with Apple at the head of this ignoble pack. The FTC has taken note, admitting that the agency has been lax on this front but that going forward it will prioritize what could be illegal restrictions by companies as to how consumers can repair, repurpose, and reuse their own property.

Devices are often built today with no concessions made towards easy repair or refurbishment, or even once routine upgrades like adding RAM or swapping out an ailing battery. While companies like Apple do often support hardware for a long time in some respects, the trade-off seems to be that if you crack your screen, the maker is your only real option to fix it.

That’s a problem for many reasons, as right-to-repair activist and iFixit founder Kyle Wiens has argued indefatigably for years (the company posted proudly about the statement on its blog). The FTC sought comment on this topic back in 2019, issued a report on the state of things a few months ago, and now (perhaps emboldened by new Chair Lina Khan’s green light to all things fearful to big tech companies) has issued a policy statement.

The gist of the unanimously approved statement is that they found that the practice of deliberately restricting repairs may have serious repercussions, especially among people who don’t have the cash to pay the Apple tax for what ought to be (and once was) a simple repair.

The Commission’s report on repair restrictions explores and discusses a number of these issues and describes the hardships repair restrictions create for families and businesses. The Commission is concerned that this burden is borne more heavily by underserved communities, including communities of color and lower-income Americans. The pandemic exacerbated these effects as consumers relied more heavily on technology than ever before.

While unlawful repair restrictions have generally not been an enforcement priority for the Commission for a number of years, the Commission has determined that it will devote more enforcement resources to combat these practices. Accordingly, the Commission will now prioritize investigations into unlawful repair restrictions under relevant statutes…

The statement then makes four basic points. First, it reiterates the need for consumers and other public organizations to report and characterize what they perceive as unfair or problematic repair restrictions. The FTC doesn’t go out and spontaneously investigate companies, it generally needs a complaint to set the wheels in motion, such as people alleging that Facebook is misusing their data.

Second is a surprising antitrust tie-in, where the FTC says it will look at said restrictions aiming to answer whether monopolistic practices like tying and exclusionary design are in play. This could be something like refusing to allow upgrades, then charging an order of magnitude higher than market price for something like a few extra gigs of storage or RAM, or designing products in such a way that it moots competition. Or perhaps arbitrary warranty violations for doing things like removing screws or taking the device to third party for repairs. (Of course, these would depend on establishing monopoly status or market power for the company, something the FTC has had trouble doing.)

More in line with the FTC’s usual commercial regulations, it will assess whether the restrictions are “unfair acts or practices,” which is a much broader and easier to meet requirement. You don’t need a monopoly to make claims of an “open standard” to be misleading, or for a hidden setting to slow the operations of third party apps or peripherals, for instance.

And lastly the agency mentions that it will be working with states in its push to establish new regulations and laws. This is perhaps a reference to the pioneering “right to repair” bills like the one passed by Massachusetts last year. Successes and failures along those lines will be taken into account and the feds and state policymakers will be comparing notes.

This isn’t the first movement in this direction by a long shot, but it is one of the plainest. Tech companies have seen the writing on the wall, and done things like expand independent repair programs — but it’s arguable that these actions were taken in anticipation of the FTC’s expected shift toward establishing hard lines on the topic.

The FTC isn’t showing its full hand here, but it’s certainly hinting that it’s ready to play if the companies involved want to push their luck. We’ll probably know more soon once it starts ingesting consumer complaints and builds a picture of the repair landscape.

#ftc, #gadgets, #government, #hardware, #ifixit, #right-to-repair

Apple TV 4K gets 8 out of 10 repairability score in iFixit’s latest teardown

After iFixit completed its 24-inch iMac teardown, its attention turned to the new Apple TV 4K, which launched on the same day last week. A new YouTube video shows the process of opening and servicing the streaming box and its brand-new, fully redesigned remote.

The internal components found in the new Apple TV 4K are not a surprise. The device contains Apple’s A12 chip (the same found in the iPhone XS), which is a substantial upgrade for gaming performance over the A10 in the 2017 model. Apart from that, though, the machine looks pretty much the same as before.

The 2021 Apple TV 4K ended up being simple to disassemble and service. Like its immediate predecessor, the new Apple TV 4K can be opened with a screwdriver, its components are modular, and those components are relatively easy to remove and put back in. As with the 2017 model, iFixit gave the streaming box an 8 out of 10 repairability score.

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#apple, #apple-tv, #apple-tv-4k, #ifixit, #siri-remote, #teardown, #tech

24-inch M1 iMac teardown finds… not that much inside, actually

iFixit has begun a teardown of the new, M1-equipped 24-inch iMac that was released to the public just last week, and so far the finding has been that there’s not a whole lot to find in there.

One thing to keep in mind: there is a version of the 24-inch iMac with seven GPU cores and another with eight. iFixit is tearing down the eight-core version, and that’s relevant because the cooling system differs between the two, so this isn’t exactly representative of every 24-inch iMac Apple is shipping.

Most of the components, including the logic board, can be found in the iMac’s chin. Since this is an M1 Mac, there is obviously not a separate GPU, and most of the key components are on the SoC. That means that upgrading the RAM or the GPU is not a possibility. iFixit compares the logic board to that found in the M1 MacBook Air.

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#apple, #ifixit, #imac, #m1, #mac, #teardown, #tech

iFixit tears down Apple’s $550 AirPods Max headphones

As is a custom at this point, online repair kit and tool vendor iFixit tore down one of the latest Apple products and assessed its repairability. In this case, the product is the ultra-expensive ($550) AirPods Max over-ear noise-canceling headphones.

Most of the interior components are about what you’d expect in a high-end pair of wireless headphones, but the machinery is highly intricate, and there are many, many screws.

iFixit found that the Lightning port is particularly difficult—though not impossible—to reach, which is unfortunate, given that this is one of the parts most likely to fail. The part is also critical to the device’s ability to function, since it’s the charging port.

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#airpods, #airpods-max, #apple, #headphones, #ifixit, #tech

iFixit teardown of M1 MacBooks gives us our first glimpse at the M1 up close

As expected, iFixit has done a teardown of two of Apple’s three new M1-based Macs: the MacBook Air and the 2-port, 13-inch MacBook Pro. What they found is somehow both surprising and not: almost nothing has changed in the laptops apart from the inclusion of the M1 chip and directly related changes.

The biggest change is definitely the omission of a fan in the MacBook Air. iFixit notes that given the Intel MacBook Air’s history of overheating in some cases, it speaks volumes about the efficiency of the M1 that so far it seems the Air gets on just fine without that fan now. Also missing: the T2 chip, which we noted in our Mac mini review has been replaced completely by the M1 in all these new Macs.

The 13-inch MacBook Pro is even more similar to its predecessor. The T2 chip is also gone, but the laptop retains the exact same fan and cooling system, with no differences whatsoever. Reviews of the 13-inch MacBook Pro claim that the fan doesn’t spin up as often as it used to, but iFixit concludes here that that’s because of the shift from an Intel chip to the M1, not because of an improved cooling system. The fans on the Intel and M1 Pro are interchangeable.

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#13-inch-macbook-pro, #apple-m1, #apple-silicon, #cooling, #ifixit, #m1, #macbook-air, #teardown, #tech

iFixit tears down the iPhone 12 mini, shows how Apple crammed it all in

iFixit has posted its teardown of the iPhone 12 mini, and it found inside what seems clear from the outside: a smaller version of the iPhone 12, with no missing features or components. However, some of those components—most notably the battery—are a bit smaller than they are in this phone’s 6.1-inch big brother.

iFixit found that the battery measures in at 8.57Wh. For comparison, the iPhone SE—which actually has a larger body—has a smaller 6.96Wh battery, whereas the much larger iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro both have 10.78Wh batteries. This maps pretty closely to what battery tests have found: the iPhone 12 mini offers better battery life than an iPhone SE or iPhone 8, but it can’t beat its larger siblings.

Other shrunk-down components found by iFixit include a smaller Taptic Engine and loudspeaker. Also, some display-related components have been moved around, and there are only two display cables (compared to the iPhone 12’s three).

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#ifixit, #iphone-12, #iphone-12-mini, #teardown, #tech

Apple Watch Series 6 teardown unveils missing Force Touch, bigger battery

The Apple Watch Series 6 isn’t a radical leap forward from its predecessor. It adds a few new features, like blood-oxygen monitoring, but at its heart, it’s the same Apple Watch people have been buying and wearing for a bit now. That said, repairability advocates (and repair-tool vendors) iFixit did a teardown of the Watch to find out just how different or similar it is inside.

The verdict is that the Series 6 is indeed mostly the same Watch, with a few key differences. First, it opens a little differently—it “opens to the side like a book.” This is a slightly different approach to getting inside the Watch. iFixit posits that this change may be possible in part because the hardware for Force Touch has been removed from the Watch, just as it was in recent iPhones. As with the iPhones, Apple has replaced Force Touch with long-presses.

The battery is notably bigger, at 1.17Wh for the 44-millimeter model and 1.024Wh for the 40mm. That’s a modest, single-point increase for both. There are fewer display cables to disconnect when disassembling the device, and there’s a larger Taptic Engine in the Watch, too. And of course, iFixit found the pulse oximeter sensor inside.

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#apple-watch, #apple-watch-series-6, #force-touch, #ifixit, #taptic-engine, #teardown, #tech

How to Buy Tech That Lasts and Lasts

All of our tech products will one day become obsolete, but here are some strategies to buying gadgets that you can enjoy for many years.

#apple-inc, #batteries, #computers-and-the-internet, #defective-products, #ifixit, #ipad, #iphone, #smartphones, #tablet-computers, #wireless-communications

iFixit introduces a free database of medical repair manuals

Best known as leading purveyors of device teardowns, iFixit today announced that it’s turned much of its focus to even more pressing matters. For two months, the site had roughly half of its staff turn its focus to the creation of a medical repair database — one it’s labeled the “world’s largest.”

That includes 13,000+ manuals from hundreds of companies available for anyone to use for free. Along with iFixit’s own staff, a good portion of the do-gooder work was crowdsourced with the help from experts.

“This has been an absolutely massive undertaking—and we were fortunate to have the help and support of over 200 librarians and archivists from across the country,” iFixit CEO Kyle Wiens writes in a post. “Archivists from university and public libraries, research institutes, insurance and software companies, and of course biomeds themselves—all donated their valuable time. Collectively, they’ve contributed thousands of hours organizing piles of documents into a navigable, searchable system.”

The site offer a long list of volunteers, from a slew of universities, libraries and even companies like LinkedIn. Pulling such a project off might have seemed an impossible task until recently, but an overtaxed medical system straining to manage the COVID-19 pandemic has caused many to pitch in where they can.

iFixit notes that the database’s use extends beyond COVID-19, but the need for such a resource feel more necessary than ever in the current climate. 

#apps, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #hardware, #health, #ifixit

The Joys of Fixing Your Own Stuff

With jobs lost and stores closed, people are now reviving their old gadgets on their own.

#computers-and-the-internet, #do-it-yourself, #ifixit

Teardown describes iPhone SE as a mix of prior components

As has become a regular custom, iFixit has done a visual teardown of the latest Apple hardware. In this case, it’s the iPhone SE, Apple’s lower-cost handset that appears to cram the latest-gen A13 processor into the chassis of 2017’s iPhone 8.

That relationship was the focus of the teardown. iFixit went in seeking to confirm whether this really is the iPhone 8 with just a few changes, and it even opened up the two devices side by side. The answer appears to mostly be “yes.” When first inspecting the SE via X-ray, iFixit found it to be close to identical inside to the iPhone 8 “apart from some very subtle antenna rework and moving a few chips around the logic board.”

The two phones are so similar that many components, such as the main speaker or the Taptic Engine, are interchangeable between them. The iPhone SE also has exactly the same size battery as the 8, at 6.9Wh, but the battery connector is different, so the batteries are unfortunately not interchangeable.

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#ifixit, #iphone, #iphone-8, #iphone-se, #teardown, #tech

iPad Pro teardown basically finds 2018’s iPad Pro with a lidar sensor

As expected, iFixit has published a teardown of the 12.9-inch, 2020 iPad Pro, assessing both what’s new in the device compared to 2018 and how straightforward the device is to open up and repair. It turns out not too much has changed (which we already knew), and the Pro remains quite difficult to service.

In the video (sorry, no blog post this time, it seems), we see the various steps required to replace interior components like the screen or USB-C port that might have failed. Just about every step involves “lots of adhesive” and “precarious prying.” In fact, it’s a conundrum from the very first step, as opening up the casing will leave you trying to figure out how to detach two cables that Apple clearly didn’t intend users to be futzing with.

Unsurprisingly, iFixit gave the 2020 iPad Pro a 3 out of 10 for repairability—the same as it gave the 2018 model. That’s because for these intents and purposes, this is the same tablet as was introduced in 2018.

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#2020-ipad-pro, #apple, #ifixit, #ipad, #ipad-pro, #tablet, #teardown, #tech

MacBook Air teardown finds positive progress for repairability

iFixit, a company that sells gadget-repair parts and publishes regular teardowns of popular devices, dug into the new MacBook Air this week and found it to be a slight step-up for MacBooks in terms of repairability.

The site found that the move from the butterfly keyboard to the new scissor-switch one only added “half a millimeter to the thick end of the new Air.” And the site speculates that these keys should be much more reliable, noting that no silicone barrier is needed as it was on the butterfly keyboard to mitigate that design’s problems.

Keyboard aside, the teardown uncovered a larger heartsink for the CPU, plus a couple of things that might make this laptop a bit easier to service than its predecessor.

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#apple, #ifixit, #macbook-air, #tech