Gosh, it’s been 10+ years since phones and tablets were easily openable, a user could swap out the battery with no fuss. Some younger tech users might not even remember the days of buying a larger aftermarket battery that greatly extended the usable hours of their phone, or of simply replacing a worn battery and continuing to use a phone for many years.
A new European Union law is going into effect, recently voted 587 to 9, that would force all smartphone and tablet manufacturers selling goods in the EU to create their products in such a way that any user can swap the batteries.
Specifically, their phrasing says, swapping the battery should require no specialized tools and should be easy to do by a layperson.
This Changes The Way Manufacturers Make Phones.
This method allows for companies to make phones and tablets thinner and lighter, but at the cost of being difficult to open. In virtually all cases, opening their devices requires special tools and voids the warranty.
Being forced to return to a schematic where anyone can open the phone is quite a switch-around in terms of build, and means manufacturers will have to come up with new designs on all their products to comply.
As ColdFusion points out, it seems unlikely that manufacturers would spend the time and effort designing two different versions of each of their products — one for the EU and another for everywhere else.
So this law is particularly significant because it will probably change phones and tablets worldwide.
After all, if a manufacturer has to make their phone a certain way for the entire European market, they might as well make it that way everywhere else.
This, paired with another recent law forcing manufacturers to adopt USB-C as a port standard next year makes for a big pair of changes.
A Win For The User.
Normally I wouldn’t be in favor of a government commanding private companies how they have to make their products. But I think a lot of us can agree that greedy companies have made a lot of anti-consumer moves over recent years.
(I’m looking at you, removal of headphone jack.)
Companies can dress up these decisions with excuses like, “There’s not enough room on the inside for a DAC!” But ask yourself how a Galaxy phone has room for a whole stylus inside and ends up the same size as another phone with no stylus.
With how small a DAC and 3.5mm jack is comparatively, those excuses don’t survive any real scrutiny. What’s more likely in these cases is that companies are finding convenient ways to take features away and sell people more products to fill in the gaps… that they created.
Minimum Levels Of Recycled Materials On Batteries, As Well.
This EU law goes further than just forcing the issue of swappable batteries. It also spells out minimum thresholds for what levels of certain materials must be recovered in recycling — both in manufacturing itself and in consumer waste.
The verbiage also makes it seem that they’ll be regulating how electronics are disposed of, presumably making a push to collect electronics waste in ways that allow for better recycling and less materials ending up in landfills.
Potential Drawbacks Of This Law
The increased demands on tracking and sourcing the components used to produce batteries means increased costs for any company not already doing those things.
Computer World author Johnny Evans points out that this may be the end of budget Android phones, since many of those models maintain their low price points by cutting exactly those types of corners.
Companies like Apple are already engaged in sustainable materials tracking, so this particular batch of changes will affect some companies more than others.
Exceptions To The EU Law
Evidently this legal document laws out some caveats that would potentially create exceptions.
One of them states that the requirement for replaceable batteries is exempt if the manufacturer uses high-end enough batteries that still have 80% capacity after 1000 charge cycles.
This might mean companies like Apple won’t have to change the designs of the iPhone, since users report being able to use iPhones and iPads well beyond the typical 2 year cycle of other devices.
Personally I would love to see the battery swaps come to Apple gear as well, but I suppose the “use the best batteries” is a fair compromise, as exceptions go.