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Apple Publishes “Longevity, by Design” White Paper

In a newly published white paper entitled “Longevity, by Design,” Apple writes:

At Apple, we are always working to create the best experience for our customers, which is why we design products that last. Designing for longevity is a company-wide effort, informing our earliest decisions long before the first prototype is built and guided by historical customer-use data and predictions on future usage. It requires striking a balance between durability and repairability while not compromising on safety, security, and privacy.

We are continuously striving to increase product longevity through new design and manufacturing technologies, ongoing software support, and expanded access to repair services.

It’s easy to see this white paper as aimed at legislators who might be considering further Right to Repair regulations that Apple wouldn’t like, but I found it more interesting as a look at how Apple thinks internally about the larger issue of device longevity.

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Comments About Apple Publishes “Longevity, by Design” White Paper

Notable Replies

  1. My preference is always that the device doesn’t break in the first place. If that effort reduces repairability, I’m fine with it.

  2. The cynic in me wonders if this is just proactive distortion field marketing given Apple’s ongoing anti repairability behavior.

  3. It’s definitely possible, but anecdotally my Apple stuff has gotten immensely more reliable in the last decade.

  4. I’ve got a 2008 iPhone 3G (no s) that I use every night to play a few games before I turn off the light. A couple of years ago, I was able to get the battery replaced.

    When I got my iPhone 11, I gave the old iPhone 7 to a good friend. That’s the phone he uses; he’s too cheap to buy a phone himself.

    I have no problem with the longevity of Apple products. I usually only buy new stuff ‘cause I want the bells & whistles. Hmmm, it may be time to get a new  Watch; I’ve got a 5.

  5. 3G amazing. I still have and use my 6+. Meets my minimal needs.

  6. I’m impressed. That’s really old. Predates Apple’s A-series processors and tops out at iOS 4.2.1. And with most carriers having turned off their 3G networks, it’s probably Wi-Fi only these days.

    But if you’ve got a collection of apps that still work for you, that’s great. And if you need to replace the battery, it’s not too big of a deal. According to iFixit, you can buy an aftermarket battery for $15. Installation takes about a half hour and doesn’t look very difficult, if you’re comfortable working with inserting and removing small screws.

  7. I envy you. I miss my beloved casual games Vorn, Wurdle, and especially “AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!!”. I upgraded to a fancy new 1st gen iPhone SE a few years ago and somewhere along the way upgraded past compatibility for those games.

    Still chugging along on the SE, though, works as well as the day I bought it. Bonus, Slack’s app is going to stop supporting it in 8 weeks, so no more annoying work message notifications.

  8. This is the kind of thing I meant above:

    How infrequently a product requires repair over its lifespan is the strongest
    indicator of quality and reliability. The newest generations of Apple devices are
    much less likely to need repair compared to devices released just a few years
    ago. For example, from 2015 to 2022, out-of-warranty repair rates were down
    by 38%. For iPhone, overall repairs for accidental damage have decreased by
    44% since the introduction of improved enclosures starting with the iPhone 7
    line-up. When liquid ingress protection was introduced with iPhone 7 and
    iPhone 7 Plus, repairs for liquid damage decreased 75%. Improving reliability
    and maintaining quality are two of the most important factors to increase the
    longevity of our devices

    and

    For example, early generations6 of iPhone were susceptible to failure if
    exposed to liquids like accidental spills, getting caught in the rain, or drops in
    water — so our design teams iterated until they were able to achieve robust
    liquid ingress protection, which decreased repair rates by 75% with iPhone 7
    and iPhone 7 Plus. While these changes required the addition of adhesives,
    seals, and gaskets that made repairs more complex, the remarkable
    improvements to product longevity justified a slight increase in repair
    complexity. The reliability of our hardware will always be our top concern when
    seeking to maximize the lifespan of products. The reason is simple: the best
    > repair is the one that’s never needed.

    (bolding mine)

    (they’re getting a bit cute with the “slight increase in repair complexity”)

  9. Yeah, I was really struck by how Apple seemed to be thinking beyond the basics of “let’s make it easy to repair,” to “let’s see if we can make repairs unnecessary first.”

  10. Designing devices so they don’t need repair before they become obsolete is very important, and I’m glad Apple thinks that way.

    But that doesn’t remove the need for repairability because things still break. Screens get cracked by impacts, water ingress happens, and batteries do fail for reasons other than usage patterns (e.g. frequently used on a hot car’s dashboard). So there should still be a relatively easy way to replace the most commonly-replaced parts (screens and batteries).

    Once upon a time, all phone batteries were easily replaceable, because they couldn’t keep the phone running for a whole day of usage. You may remember people buying spare batteries, kept charged by a standalone device, so they could quickly be swapped with the one in the phone when that one died. This was common in the days of the first-generation smart phones, and the feature phones before then.

    I realize that you can’t have waterproofing if battery access can be had by just pulling off a plastic rear cover, but there should still be options. For example, I’ve seen calculators where the back is screwed on, with a rubber gasket around the perimeter - providing water ingress protection and easy removal. I see no technical reason why Apple (and Samsung and Motorola and LG and all the rest) couldn’t do something like this.

  11. No, but it balances it against other priorities. Apple’s stating pretty clearly that if they see a way to substantially reduce the need for repair, they’ll go in that way, even if it makes repairing ultimately more difficult.

    Strategically designing for repairability without compromising on durability is a key pillar of device longevity. For example, to enable easy battery replacement, we use advanced adhesives to robustly secure batteries that are designed to release when stretched in a specific direction

    They’re not going to give up on the adhesive, but they’ll try to make it more accessible.

    Actually, I’ll note an unrecognized spectrum: 1) there’s making things repairable by Apple; 2) there’s making things repairable by third party organizations; 3) and there’s making things repairable by users.

    1 allows for a lot less accessibility than 2 and especially 3. Apple can spend the millions for the tools and expertise necessary to unglue something (or just give the user an entirely new product as a replacement).

    You should read the white paper. It’s interesting and pretty short.

  12. @silbey thanks for the stats. I always purchased Apple products because they lasted.

    Having a MBP in that 2015-2022 period, I can speak from some experience. My MBP showed great battery life until it bulged and needed to be replaced to the tune of $235+tax. In the end the cost was high not because of the battery but because they had to replace the complete bottom of the laptop. I remember older MBP where you popped a few clips and unscrewed the battery to replace. The cost of those Apple batteries was only about $60 (perhaps ~$130 adjusted for inflation now). Of course my newer MBP repair happened right after apple care ended and I was unable to convince the folks at the store that the repair should be covered.

    So while no repairs required is a laudable goal, there are still components that break or wear out. Those should be easy to replace as @Shamino mentioned. I agree 100%. Apple hasn’t made those repairs easy to do … so far.

  13. I’m betting you would have preferred the battery not bulge in the first place.

    But also now we’re seeing another aspect of “repairable.” It’s not just that it has to be fixable, it has to be so at a reasonable price.

  14. They probably could from a technical standpoint, but from a design standpoint it might end up with a thick phone that people don’t want. Obviously I’m simplifying, but my point is there are a lot of design tradeoffs so it’s not just about what’s technically possible.

  15. Rossmann is not impressed:

    Pass if you might be offended by his very strong language but he actually fixes Apple products for a living and promotes right to repair, so is worth listening to.

    Apple gear has been pretty reliable for me but I was caught by the failing GPUs and some of the engineering I have seen in my own and my friend’s products over the last 40 years when they needed cleaning or repair has not been the best frankly.

    Apple engineers are an amazing group but they are ultimately subservient to the policies of their bosses and those are not always in our favour.

    As with all huge corporations, one needs to be wary of their motivations and their execution, no matter how cuddly they want to appear.

  16. Refreshing straight talk. Not a fan of the language, but I get it, it’s grating to face such propaganda vs. that track record.

  17. Look at electronics designed for outdoorsmen and first responders. Radios, laptops, and optics have swappable batteries with gaskets to seal them and tiny levers to lock those seals into place. It can be done.

  18. I’ve been using Mac’s since 1984 and, as a result, Apple products such as iPhones, iPads and iPods. When I get new, I’ve kept the old as I thought I was going to use it for something. My Apple museum is vast, at least for a basement collection, and while I haven’t checked, I think everything still works, all the way back to a Mac Plus.

    I’ve told friends over the years that Apple costs more because it lasts all the way to obsolescence. Other brands seem to need bi-annual replacement due to hardware failures.

  19. Not all of them, but the cheap ones do. My employer buys me Dell and HP mobile workstations, and they have no problem lasting 5-7 years. But they’re not cheap - MSRP on these computers is higher than many Apple systems.

    But if the bulk of your experience with non-Apple equipment is what you see on the shelf at WalMart or Best Buy, then you’re not seeing the highest quality equipment.

  20. The issue here isn’t so much water ingress, but the level of protection you sacrifice when this is an option. From the start, it’s far less robust and over time things occur which could significantly affect the device. For example, the gasket gets pinched which lessens the protection or the access “door” isn’t re-installed correctly and that means when you drop the iPhone into the pool (or toilet), it has no effective water resistance and now you have a paperweight. With the current scheme, you would probably have a functional iPhone. Perhaps a bit messy, but functional.

  21. That depends entirely on how well it is engineered and the competency of the repair tech working on it.

    If a repair shop screws up the gasket on a battery replacement, well, they could equally screw up the adhesive when replacing an iPhone’s battery.

    Since we’re describing a hypothetical design, you can’t make claims about how bad the design would be. There are plenty of ways to waterproof a device that are different from what Apple is doing, and some are far easier for third parties to repair.

  22. I’d certainly prefer a world where I can swap the battery myself at the expense of having to swap a $5 gasket vs. having to pay Apple $89 to swap the battery and be without my phone for anywhere between hours to days.

    But I think the other path that Apple has chosen is typical Apple: the crowd that wants to do nothing on their phone themselves gets exactly that (at the expense of having to pay Apple top $ to do it for them). In my world, even those not keen on swapping the battery themselves could be forced to swap that gasket every once in a while to retain water resistance. Now sure they could have Apple do it for them, but they would still have to worry about when does it need swapping (after every drop? after two years? after I open it to see what’s inside?). And I’m pretty sure Apple sees a majority of their users not wanting to have to concern themselves with that.

    The path Apple chose is not the one I would prefer for myself, but I think it is a legitimate path in order to maximize convenience for the hands-off crowd. No doubt that comes at a cost. And the bottom line here IMHO is that that cost is not equally justified to all depending on where they fall on that hands-off scale.

  23. To be fair, Apple does offer the Self Service Repair Program. It’s not cheap or easy, but it does give people access to the manuals, tools, and parts they need. I haven’t yet heard from anyone who has used it.

  24. I found out the hard way 3rd party shops work is not always reliable. Within a year of purchasing a second hand iPhone had to replace battery, screen and even the charging cable. Since then I always let Apple replace the battery and whatever else is necessary. Never had issues again.

    Some of my older Apple devices are in the vintage list. For them my careful intervention or a trusted repair man are necessary. I actually found interesting to disassemble my Mac over the years to replace bits worn out or to upgrade. Most of it won’t be possible with newer models now. Haven’t tried them yet to discover if the loss of self-repair options are worth less than design innovations.

  25. Also, per Nuke, we know what the “Apple Repair Tax” is (current dollars): 130 vs. 235.

    I’ll gladly pay the extra $105 if it means a more reliable product in the first place. The best repair is the one that never happens.

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