Move Slow and Fix Things

20 Jan 2022

My phone got broken for the second time in the last few months.

The first time it was my kid who broke it. She dropped it on the floor screen down. It flickered still when I pressed buttons, but after 15 minutes, it stopped doing that and went completely blank. I quickly checked the internet and learned that I'd need to pay at least half of the phone's price to fix it. I also learned that my phone will stop receiving software updates in half a year. That made me even less eager to bring it to a repair center. In the end, I decided to spend only a third of the phone's price to buy a new screen and install it myself. It went okay, apart from me not having the proper adhesive to glue the screen back and thus leaving a small gap between it and the rest of the phone. Sure, it accumulated some dust that I cleaned up once in a while, but it was cheaper and environmentally friendly since the best phone is the one you already have.

The second time it slipped out of my hoodie's pocket. The screen was dead again, this time without flickering. Spending more money on it was out of the question. Even though the phone was released in 2019, has relatively good specs, and still feels snappy, it will turn into a pumpkin without software updates. The same happened to my old phone, which was launched in 2016, received its last update in 2018, and after a year, I could not install Netflix on it1. The same happened in 2015 to the one before.

Things were moving fast and breaking back then, so I had no choice but to keep up. At least I always got a phone that felt faster and better than the old one. Now it seems like phones have reached the level of performance comfortable for most everyday tasks. Has the time to slow it down come?

Not by smartphone producers' clocks. Many release new devices annually while offering only 2-3 years of software updates. Even Google, the company behind Android OS, supported their Pixel phones for 3 years until the recently released Pixel 6 that generously got 5 years of software updates2. Apple provides patches for their phones for roughly 6 years after release3. It is considered the best in the mobile phones world, supposedly because they control both software and hardware. Microsoft from the past scoffs at them: Windows XP was supported for 12 years4 on a messy zoo of PCs! Nowadays, Microsoft-produced laptops and tablets only get a 4-year software support guarantee5.

Frankly, why bother supporting something that will break in 2-3 years anyway and won't be repaired?

According to one survey6, 2/3 of respondents prefer to replace a broken phone with a new one. Probably because the repair price is too high for them: 54% of respondents underestimated it. The price is high not only because genuine parts cost a lot - repairman's work must be paid too, according to the skill and tools required to tear a smartphone down and put it back together. One needs a heat gun, a suction handle, a bunch of opening picks, along with a set of screwdrivers to disassemble a modern phone. Some devices use Phillips screws, some Torx. Apple infamously puts Pentalobe ones in their phones and laptops while Microsoft flirts with tri-point screws for no particular reason. And when all things to screw are screwed, the rest is glued. Take a look at iFixit teardowns and guides. They don't look like repairs that even the enthusiastic 64% of respondents7 would be eager to do. I did an easy one and won't do another.

The hamster wheel of annual releases and neverending fight for thinness and glassiness harm repairability. It forces people to buy new phones allowing manufacturers to neglect software. Needless to say, how much unnecessary waste this system produces along the way.8.

It shouldn't be like this. Smartphone producers should make their products easily repairable and provide customers with spare parts and repair kits, as well as software updates and patches, for a long time after release.

Luckily some people are changing the status quo. Fairphone, Shift, and Framework produce repairable phones and laptops. The Right To Repair Campaign fights for enforcing design practices that ease repairability. Even the giants started turning around when Apple announced their Self Service Repair program.

I want to see a world where 10-year support for mobile phones is standard. I hope we're not too far from it. Meanwhile, I need to figure out which phone to buy next.

  1. I managed to do it it by downloading APK and installing it manually. It works fine even now. WTF?

  2. has only EOL dates, but here you can also see release dates.

  3. Though I couldn't find any official document or statement about it, there is a list of iPhones supported by the latest iOS. Again provides more information:


    Though it's not directly comparable with smartphone software, they aren't apples and oranges either. I think it gives a good impression of where to strive to.