In a major victory for the right-to-repair movement, Google announced last week that it will begin selling original equipment manufacturer (OEM) parts like batteries, replacement displays, and cameras directly to consumers through the repair portal iFixit.
If you’ve purchased any new gadgets over the past 20 years, you may have noticed something funny happening: more and more frequently, manufacturers are telling customers to simply throw out broken TVs or smartphones, for example, replacing them with brand-new ones, rather than making any effort to repair the original device.
There’s a parallel trend that’s even more sinister, though. Many manufacturers have choked off access to repair parts and even manuals, meaning the only way to even hypothetically get a reliable repair is to send items directly back to the manufacturer. Yes, corner shops have sprung up to repair things like smartphone screens, but if your Nintendo Switch controller starts to “drift,” you can only return it to Nintendo.
Manufacturers offer up a whole slew of pretenses for why they want to protect repair information, like the growing sophistication of technology ranging from gaming consoles all the way down to wireless earbuds. They’ve even discouraged consumers by voiding the warranties on items that are tinkered with. But this all represents a major ideological shift from a time when there was a local electrician who could repair your TV as well as your stereo, for example. It’s our culture that has drifted, so to speak, away from the local repair shop.
But it seems we’re slowly returning to our roots. Last June, the right-to-repair movement made a splash in the news after lawmakers proposed the Right-to-Repair Act. In July, President Joe Biden signed an executive order trying to make it easier to repair your own items. In October, Microsoft publicly agreed to investigate repair options. And in November, Apple—one of the thorniest opponents of right-to-repair, and one of the most notoriously opaque companies in the mix—made huge news when it made manuals, parts, and tools available directly to customers for certain iPhones.
Now, Google is the latest Big Tech company to make a move toward the right to repair. Not only will it make parts available for its line of Pixel smartphones, but it’s selling the parts directly through right-to-repair stalwart iFixit as both individual pieces and full repair kits. (By comparison, Apple restricted parts sales to their tightly-controlled Apple Store.)
iFixit is already one of the biggest destinations online for right-to-repair advocates, offering step-by-step instructions to repair almost anything, along with a robust community of fellow tinkerers and an online store full of tools and parts. It’s worked with Google to offer kits that include both OEM Pixel parts and all the tools someone needs to get started:
– iOpener, iFixit’s tool to cleanly open adhered phone shells
-Replacement pre-cut adhesive to re-close the phone after repairs
-iFixit Opening Picks
-Spudger, a separating tool that won’t damage phone parts
-iFixit Opening Tool
-Precision Bit Driver with Integrated SIM Eject Tool
-Four-millimeter Precision Bits appropriate for the specific phone
The kits will be available starting later this year along with all the individual Pixel parts users may need. iFixit has already hosted Pixel repair guides for a long time, but this is the first time it will be able to offer OEM Pixel parts, like original batteries, instead of third-party replacements.
iFixit founder Kyle Wiens says the move will be pretty seamless, because iFixit already offers a variety of third-party parts and guides for the Pixel—it’ll just slot the real Google deal into place, and Google has been very cooperative. “We’re able to really get in the weeds and talk about details around the kinds of adhesives that are used, how to increase modularity, etc.” Wiens tells Popular Mechanics.
He even already owns a Pixel 5a, “which I love because it has a headphone jack,” Wiens says. “The world has billions of devices with headphone jacks that work just fine, and there’s no reason we shouldn’t keep them in operation for another few decades.”