But that requires manufacturers to change the way they set-up devices. “What I would like to see is a combination of companies dealing with regulatory pressure and market pressure to design products that are more repairable, that are more durable, that are easier and cheaper to repair,” says Perzanowski.
Change is inevitable, says Repasi, who believes the regulatory moves will have a significant impact because of the response he has encountered from manufacturers. “Since they have to be enacted, it’s more of a guess [what products will look like in the future]. But you get a first idea on the basis of the reactions of lobby organisations working on behalf of the manufacturers,” he says. Manufacturers have fought tooth and nail for their ability to maintain the need for officially branded components.
For example, it seems inevitable, Repasi says, that we’ll return to devices that come with interchangeable batteries, as was the case with early generations of mobile phones and laptops.
However, lasting change will also be dependent on who gets to repair those devices. “The repair market is not really a functioning market,” he says, pointing to the prohibitively high cost of obtaining official spare parts. If regulation can ensure access to spare parts for all parties, not just the manufacturers’ own repair teams, then Repasi can envisage a future where repair stores can operate on every street corner. “If I have a product that is defective, then I could go to a local repair shop – ideally within five minutes’ distance – give it in there, have a nice coffee, and have my product back one hour later,” he says.
Such a speedy turnaround, he hopes, would be possible through 3D-printed products, created on demand, from centralised databases of spare parts provided by manufacturers – reducing costs and friction to get items repaired. “Spare parts are prohibitively expensive,” he says. “At times, it reminds me of cartels.”
Some devices may echo the original era of mobile phones, where you could remove batteries and replace them. With devices that are designed to be modular, it may also be possible to swap out a malfunctioning or out-dated component for a new one, without having to replace the entire device.
That would bring the cost of repairs down – but Repasi envisages a future where repairs are subsidised by manufacturers as an environmental incentive for businesses to be green. A similar scheme already exists in Germany and Austria, he says, to enable low-income people to make use of repairers, rather than to simply replace items for new ones.
The future is coming, Repasi says – and our devices and how we interact with them will soon change. “This is one of the most exciting developments in terms of quite quickly being disruptive to how markets work,” he says.
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