For the past few years, device makers, especially Microsoft and Apple, have been criticized for making products that are extremely difficult – if not impossible – to be repaired by a user. While the companies often argue that this is because their products are carefully put together, and are now slimmer than ever, therefore requiring unique parts, critics say that this results in more waste and expense for the users.
If your Surface Laptop or MacBook’s SSD fails, for example, it should be a relatively easy and cost-effective repair. However, these systems aren't designed for home repair. Instead, you'll need to either ship the laptop back to Microsoft or Apple for repair or replacement or take it to an approved repair shop.
If you try to fix it yourself or go to a non-approved repair shop, you risk voiding the warranty, or even damaging the device further.
This has led to some consumer backlash. In the US and Europe, there is increasing legislation forcing manufacturers to acknowledge the customer’s right to repair their own devices. It seems many manufacturers are taking this seriously, with Microsoft highlighting how easy its upcoming Surface Laptop SE will be to open up and replace parts using common tools.
As Gizmondo reports, Microsoft still isn’t clear about whether or not these repairs will void your warranty – at the very least, the company isn’t taking responsibility if you break something while attempting this.
Still, it’s a welcome change. Microsoft’s video shows the Surface Laptop SE being opened up and components such as the keyboard and the screen being accessed and removed. Should you need to replace or fix something, it could be a lot easier to do at home.
Launching this repairability with the Surface Laptop SE makes sense. It’s a low-cost device aimed at children and educational institutions. These are settings where a laptop is going to get a lot of punishment. If a school provides a Surface Laptop SE to a student and the keyboard breaks, the school could swap out the keyboard rather than buy a new laptop.
We’re still not sure if this repairability will come to Microsoft’s high-end devices, but we’d like to see any future Surface Laptops or Surface Pros offer this kind of repairability. To be fair to Microsoft, it already made certain aspects of its premium devices replaceable, such as the easily accessible SSD in the Surface Laptop 3 and Surface Pro X, but there’s still work to be done.
Analysis: Apple take note
While this level of repairability should have been included in its products without pressure from consumer rights campaigners, and even governments, Microsoft’s move is still a welcome one. When you buy a device, especially an expensive one, you should have more choice about how to repair it if something goes wrong.
With many companies also pledging to be more ecologically responsible, making devices that can be easily repaired and upgraded should also lead to less waste – as consumers won’t be throwing away devices when just one component has failed, for example.
Along with Microsoft, Apple has been singled out for making devices that are almost impossible to repair or upgrade, which is at odds with the consumer-friendly and environmentally conscious image it portrays.
For Apple’s part, it did announce the Apple Self Service Repair program last year, which will allow users to fix certain parts of their iPhone 13 or iPhone 12 using specialized tools. It’s for handsets only, and it’s not as flexible as Microsoft’s alternative, but it is a start.
The new MacBook Pros have also been found to be slightly more fixable than previous models, with the battery no longer glued in, and with pull-tabs included to make its removal easier. The display is also said to be easier to replace.
Still, Apple remains behind Microsoft when it comes to the fixability of its products – and Microsoft’s moves, while welcome, still need to go further, as well. Let’s hope both companies take the right to repair more seriously in 2022.
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Matt is TechRadar's Managing Editor for Core Tech, looking after computing and mobile technology. Having written for a number of publications such as PC Plus, PC Format, T3 and Linux Format, there's no aspect of technology that Matt isn't passionate about, especially computing and PC gaming. Ever since he got an Amiga A500+ for Christmas in 1991, he's loved using (and playing on) computers, and will talk endlessly about how The Secret of Monkey Island is the best game ever made.