Author(s): Raghu Gopal
Last week, Motorola became the first major smartphone manufacturer to supply official components to customers, allowing them to repair or update their devices. Motorola has teamed up with iFixit to offer customers do-it-yourself kits. By providing the parts to iFixit, Motorola is publicly acknowledging its support for user repair of smartphones and tablets.
Although smartphones are designed to be sleek, powerful and easy to use, they're certainly not made to be simple to repair. On the contrary, original equipment manufacturers go out of their way to discourage users from accessing and poking at the innards of their devices, much to the frustration of some tech-savvy users and companies looking to cater to them. iFixit, for example, has been trying to convince hardware makers to design their devices to be more user-repairable.
iFixit has been the go-to source for forensic repair guides as well as parts. Its website has become well-known for offering device teardowns, a process of opening a phone or tablet to see how all the parts are put together.
iFixit has been selling its own parts and repair tools online for years, but the partnership with Motorola marks the first time a phone-maker has fully endorsed the process. It counters the general trend of manufacturers actively discouraging users from performing any type of surgery on their devices, with warnings about violating warranty conditions. Users who dare to open their devices are familiar with the bold "warranty void if removed" stickers. Some manufacturers require all repairs and upgrades to be performed by them. However, regulators in some countries have alerted hardware makers that such rules are monopolistic and device owners have the right to use their property in reasonable ways that include repairs.
Lenovo-owned Motorola will provide iFixit with two different types of kit to sell online: battery replacement kits and LCD-screen and digitizer assembly kits. Each of them comes with everything needed to disassemble a phone, repair or replace the parts and put it back together. They include a screwdriver, necessary bits, suction handle, tweezers, spudger and an opening tool. Prices for the kits range from $35 for older batteries to $200 for newer displays. The first collection of kits available is skewed toward older and somewhat higher-end phones. Some of the models supported by these kits are the Moto X, Z, G4, G5 and Droid Turbo 2.
Motorola and its parent company Lenovo sell about 10 million smartphones per quarter, and are much stronger in certain markets. Motorola smartphones sell well in Latin America and the open-channel market in the US, so its customers tend to be different than, say, the average iPhone user. This strategy of supporting self-help could work in Motorola's case.
The company also highlights social responsibility, pointing out that innovation and sustainability don't need to be mutually exclusive. Motorola is setting an example for the industry, but it seems unlikely that major manufacturers such as Apple and Samsung will follow. It's also important to note that operators selling device insurance as a means of boosting revenue and building relationships with subscribers could raise an eyebrow to Motorola's support of DIY repairs.
In reality, the average phone user is unlikely to feel comfortable digging into the guts of their expensive and intricate electronics products. It takes keen eyesight and a steady hand to operate on a device like a smartphone. Motorola might supply the pieces, but phone surgery is no piece of cake.