Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Apple's “Disposable and Unfixable” Airpods [video] (youtube.com)
100 points by mnadkvlb 47 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 111 comments

None of these people have ever worked on a tiny electro-mechanical assembly that needs to happen on a monumental scale. It’s impossible to make this thing repairable without sacrificing size or it’s water resistance and more. I’ve worked in HVM and have a huge respect for people who make this possible. iPhone? Sure they could probably try making it repairable. It’s difficult though. I worked in a company that did competitive analysis of iPhone PCB. It’s insane. WLCSP and various CoWoS packages everywhere. Not a single mm^2 wasted. Apple Watch is the most amazing thing ever - we did cross sections and X-rays of the SoCs, lots of flat flex and hybrid PCB components, glue is king - companies like Nitto specialize in making glue for assembly. I can’t imagine how to make it repairable. It’s hard. I also wish things were repairable but then people will complain its not waterproof or whatever.

One of the things that I absolutely despise is the habit people have for consumer entitlement. People are assholes - just ask anyone who has worked in a call center or H&M cash register. General public is thankless and constantly complain about how much everything just sucks. It's almost like a passtime.

Unrelated thankless jobs: Imagine you’re an engineer working on Siri and the entire world makes fun of your work constantly. And it’s not your fault that Apple doesn’t collect insane amounts of data like Google does to make AI work. This is debatable.

Edit: let’s not talk about Siri. I’m sorry to bring it up, just had the thought come to my mind about it today when I watched Linus Tech Tips’s video about Siri. I was like damn, it must suck to be in that team. They’re just people like you and me.

Perhaps we should be making sacrifices in order to ensure our devices are repairable, or at least more durable. While it may be an amazing feat of engineering as it stands, the disposability aspect does have long term consequences.

I think this is generally true. We could go even further - the amount of Airpods vs. the amount of crap sold on Amazon for your kitchen, living room and bathroom is a few magnitudes more. Not saying we shouldn't strive, just providing some perpective how much impact Airpods has vs. the entire disposable culture we've created. Volume of plastic from Lego alone would eclipse everything Apple makes. Do you think we need to stop making Lego bricks? Not trying to be snarky, but there are some naunces that need to be hashed out.

It is an expectation for a can opener to less than $7. With this kind of consumerism, you're barking at the wrong tree with the Airpods.

Apple gets the dirty end of the stick - It is pretty juicy to hate Apple and people love it in some kind of a deep contemptful vengence.

> Volume of plastic from Lego alone would eclipse everything Apple makes.

To be fair, Lego don't stop working. Lego made decades ago work just fine today and will continue to work a century later. It's not that making things out of plastic is a sin, it's building planned obsolescence into our plastic products which is wrong.

>To be fair, Lego don't stop working.

No, kids just grow out of it, and parents throw it away...

While I'm sure that happens, Lego is also one of the toys that: is typically played with more and for longer; that gets passed from family to family, is passed between generations, or is resold. It is also less prone to breakage or wear, is relatively easy to clean, and (in many cases) has less plastic than other toys.

In many respects, it is the antithesis of what we are talking about since it is not designed to be disposable. That being said, I wouldn't be surprised if many people simply toss Lego. Such is our culture ...

Why would you throw it away? It has a good second hand value. Give it away, or sell it. There's demand.

I think it’s reasonable to criticize all aspects of unnecessary consumer waste. Apple is a good target because they are highly visible. We should be thinking about earths natural resources and how quickly we’re turning them to trash whether it’s cheap imports through Amazon or the major companies. Saying we shouldn’t criticize Apple because they’re just one company in a sea of trash I think misses the mark.

Here's the keyword: cheap.

Price in the consequences, and consumers will notice. See how much even the tiny 5¢ price of the disposable supermarket bag change consumers' behavior.

I don't think it misses the mark. It is focusing on the low hanging fruit which is a smart thing to do. Apple does pretty good: https://www.apple.com/environment/pdf/Apple_Environmental_Pr...

Where is Samsung's or Google's? Or Microsoft, GE, Lenovo, Amazon, HP, Huawei, Xiaomi?

I really doubt it's impossible to make iPhones and such just a bit more repairable. Plenty of other manufacturers have found a way.

Perhaps a single-minded focus on thinness and smooth industrial design is the real root of the problem here. Plenty of phones have decent repair scores, amidst many that have very poor ones: https://www.ifixit.com/smartphone-repairability

Looking at your list Apple is doing best of all flaghships.

Plus these scores need to price in scale of manufacturing. Fairphone total sales is less than iPhones per day.

Smartphones have been getting less repairable over time, including iPhones. If you scroll down, there is a noticeable trend towards greater repairability in older models.

It's a bit of FUD. Sure it's fucky for Apple to make glass back for no functional purpose, but breaking glass doesn't render phone useless. Mine got replaced in a dodgy shop for $130 NZD (I guess they would be able to do same in US for $50 or $20 in SE Asia). They just unglued everything and stuck new aftermarket glass.

Reality for smartphone fixes is 90% of cases they gonna replace screen, remaining - battery. Both jobs take something like 10 minutes.

"General public... constantly complain about how much everything sucks" reminds me of this hilarious Louis CK bit about cellphones and flying:


My galaxy buds plus have replaceable lithium coin cell batteries. They are basically airpods but you can repair them.

I guess the market will decide how much it values that feature? Choice is good.

But the environmental cost of disposal isn't factored in the price, so that doesn't work.

I agree, but I dont have a problem with critics or people complaining per se.

I have a problem with people complaining without first ever think about the why, understanding the problem, the trade off etc. So in these cases they are not Assholes, they are idiot. And when you explain to them they still complain? Yes they are assholes.

Not only do they think they are entitle to so many things, those complaining also tends to be the group of people unwilling to pay anything for it. You want super fast charge and thousands cycle Carbon Nanotube Solid State Battery so they last 5 - 6 years without battery replacement included with AirPod Pro? How about $399? Nope. Crazy! You are now accused of trying rip people off..... You just cant win.

They want best 4G/5G Modem and Network Technology? How about paying a slight premium for Qualcomm Modem? Nope. Qualcomm are Patent Troll.

5G is useless, stupid, patent grabbing pile of mess. I guess no one look at 3GPP Profile and view the amazing engineering achievement we went from literally little Data usage from 2009 to 4.5B people on Earth with 3G+ ( And Soon 4G ) Mobile Data connection.

And you know what make it hundred times worst?

Some of these people complaining also happen to have engineers in their title.

Something could be the most amazing design in the world, but if it cant serve its function, then its just well designed garbage. Repairability is a function i except a product to have, and if it doesnt to me that is a failure.

I think Airpods are an exception. Do you think hermetically sealed things like Pacemaker [0] should be repairable?

I generally agree with you - I personally wish people weren't so afraid of screws and other cosmetic artifacts that allow things to be repairable. There is a general distaste from the public to make things sexy, clean and minimal. So manufacturers comply. Just look up a 1950's electric coffee grinder [1] - it will have visible screws without an apology. Or a Collins instrument in a airplane cockpit even today [2]. I blame the public, designers and the bean counters. Generally, engineers' job would be easy if things were repairable because assembly/disassembly is part of the requirements from the get go and there is no Jony Ive breathing down their necks to hide screw holes. There is a whole area of study of snap-fit components to reduce BOM cost and this is where the bean counters come in.

[0] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sNW3Xqtgkus

[1] https://www.worthpoint.com/worthopedia/vintage-electric-coff...

[2] https://www.aeroexpo.online/prod/collins-aerospace-rockwell-...

How do you think pacemakers and AirPods are even comparable?

They have some similarities and many differences. I was just extending my argument to make a point that: 1) Can't increase the size 2) Ingress of fluids and weather sealing is a concern 3) Battery capacity > aesthetics/repairability

In the case of the air pods, why couldn't they just have a cylindrical compartment for the battery that can be opened - like any other device? It just seems silly.

I'll take a stab at this one:

opening compartments require more space. Any place that has a compartment needs to have that area waterproofed off of the rest of the device. When it's a thing that can be removed, it may not provide as much structural rigidity, so it can't be trusted in as part of the foundation of the device.

If the same form factor was to be maintained, then, since you need a compartment to store the battery, that takes up extra space that can't be used for more battery, so battery life would suffer, too.

How much space could a plastic or rubber end piece plug take up though, really? That would probably provide enough moisture resistance, why would headphones need to be waterproof?? I think it's just planned obsolescence.

> why would headphones need to be waterproof

because of consumers

and it makes them last longer

> I think it's just planned obsolescence.

you're blaming them for planned obsolescence (which is a wildly overplayed card on HN), while being willing to discard water resistance, which has ended god only knows how many consumer electronic devices.

please consider the possibility that you lack the information to understand the trade offs being made.

But Airpods aren't waterproof. So there's that. Galaxy buds look pretty small and have a replaceable battery. Apple with all their genius could make it work.

You'll need to provide space for seals and gaskets, either reducing battery capacity or increasing size.

I think if anything else, we shouldn't be attacking Airpods for their construction. There is bigger fish to fry like Macbooks, and often quoted along with Apple - John Deere and their tractors.

In their defense, when you're constantly bombarded by companies rolling out the puffery claiming they are the biggest thing since sliced bread, when you run into a mere mortal's mistake, you tend to get testy.

Which is why I think everyone would have been a lot happier with everyone else if we'd just drop the damn marketing wank, and just admit we all made a thing, here's the price if you like it, and moved on.

> In their defense, when you're constantly bombarded by companies rolling out the puffery claiming they are the biggest thing since sliced bread

lol, touche. Apple's marketing dept needs to tone things down.

I would feel bad for the people running Siri but I wouldn't be surprised if most of the problems come from Apple intentionally handicapping it.

And it's not like interactive language based interfaces can't be built, that's what the shell is!

Plus Apple intentionally not letting you to replace Siri with more capable assistants that support remaining 2-3 billion people and their native languages.

if it were apple priority , we would've had atleast one iPhone launch with a 2-time detail on how "repairable" it is.Can we just understand that its a feature apple is not willing to invest on and move-on , than try to defend them in other possible ways ?If only one of those PMs drew out their million-$ R&D budget on this feature!

Where’s the reference that Siri’s abysmal performance is from a lack of data? Apple might not have Google scale data but it should have enough to make it work through some sort of self-supervised/semi-supervised learning.

I am not an expert in this area, I’ll trust your word. I edited the comment. My guess was that Google has a knowledge graph thing and it’s been collecting people’s behavior for more than a decade. It's also their core business, for Apple, Siri is not.

I found a lot of value in your post, regardless of the Siri part. Manufacturing is hard.

They're tiny, they're valuable, and they last a decent while.

Of all the places to point fingers at waste problems, this is a strange one.

> Of all the places to point fingers at waste problems, this is a strange one.

Google's refusal to provide Android updates past a meager few years certainly results in a much larger volume of electronic waste in the landfills every year.

That isn't Google, it's the phone and chip manufacturers. What really prevents the phones from being updated is that they publish neither open source drivers nor hardware documentation, and then ship blob drivers that only work with a specific kernel version. When that kernel version becomes outdated and the hardware maker doesn't make drivers for any newer one, it prevents newer versions of the OS from being installed on the older hardware.

Granted Google could probably lean on them a little harder to stop doing that.

Moreover, Apple does the same thing. They might give you longer than HTC, but they still stop issuing updates to perfectly operational devices, and don't publish the documentation necessary for anybody else to make an OS for them.

Compare this to PCs where you can still install the latest Windows or Linux on some piece of hardware that originally shipped with a CRT monitor and whose manufacturer went out of business a decade ago.

Google could have designed Android with a hardware abstraction layer to separate drivers from the OS. The fact that they are attempting to retrofit one now, just proves the point.

The problem does indeed come down to Google and their choice to prioritize rapid market share growth and what the device makers and carriers wanted over what would provide a good end user experience.

The original $399 iPhone SE just started its sixth year of OS and security updates. Android devices get half that support period if you are lucky.

> Google could have designed Android with a hardware abstraction layer to separate drivers from the OS.

That is part of the kernel. You might as well blame Linus Torvalds.

> The problem does indeed come down to Google and their choice to prioritize rapid market share growth and what the device makers and carriers wanted over what would provide a good end user experience.

Google didn't have market power in phone operating systems when Android was just getting started. They had no power to dictate terms at the time because the device makers would have just used something else.

> The original $399 iPhone SE just started its sixth year of OS and security updates. Android devices get half that support period if you are lucky.

This is whataboutism. They're both doing it wrong, so your defense is that HTC is doing it wronger. But they're both still doing it wrong.

And what are you going to say if Google does get a hardware abstraction layer, so that Android devices are supported indefinitely?

So despite the fact that Google is attempting to retrofit a hardware abstraction layer into Android without breaking backwards compatability now, the comparatively much simpler job of adopting one from the start was just impossible?

This is a very poor job of excuse making.

The point stands. Google's poor decision making led to a much higher volume of electronic waste on a yearly basis than any imaginable level Airpods sales ever could.

Linux has been popular on the type of embedded processors the original Android devices were built using since forever, therefore the makers were writing Linux driver blobs for them regardless. To use a completely different HAL they would have had to write completely different drivers.

You can't convince them to do that in order to use a new operating system with no market share.

> Google's poor decision making led to a much higher volume of electronic waste than any imaginable level of Airpods sales ever could.

More whataboutism.

Nope. Google is responsible for the decisions Google makes.

You can't blame others for the mountain of electronic waste Google's poor decision making has caused.

Option one is they use the existing blob Linux drivers and people use their operating system, then they use their market share to get people to make drivers that aren't specific to a kernel version. Option two is they don't, Tizen or something like it becomes the dominant phone platform instead of Android and they have no power to change anything.

Which one causes less electronic waste?

Apple is still providing security updates for the iPhone 5S, that’s an over 7 year old device.

Which is to imply they're not still providing security updates for the iPhone 4, which is 7 years newer than the first generation AMD64 machines you can still install the latest version of Windows or Linux on.

Your bias is appalling.

In all your comments on this page you have contorted every negative for Google into a positive but every positive for Apple into a negative.

Have you considered the possibility that it's because Apple (like Huawei and Qualcomm) have a profit motive to make you to buy a new phone on regular basis even if you're satisfied with your existing one, and Google doesn't?

Microsoft provides a version of Windows 10 that works on machines with 512 megabytes of RAM like the iPhone 4 has?

Nope. Windows 10 and iOS both require two Gigs of RAM at a minimum, although Microsoft's minimum OS requirements have always been regarded as something of a joke in the industry.

> Microsoft provides a version of Windows 10 that works on machines with 512 megabytes of RAM like the iPhone 4 has?

Linux does. For that matter Android does.

Also, machines from 2003 support 16GB of RAM:


Whose fault is it that you can't upgrade the memory on the iPhone 4?

You are nitpicking. Traditional electronics have a much longer support window then even iPhones, which themselves do much better than their competition in this regard.

Traditional electronics haven't seen large leaps in hardware capabilities on a yearly basis for a very long time.

Apple supports iPhones for as long as they have enough resources for the new version of the OS to continue running on them.

Google does not. The fact that they only provide half as many years of support at best proves the point.

You keep saying "Google" but there is nothing about Android that can't run on the earliest Android devices given driver support in recent kernels, and Google doesn't control the drivers.

Meanwhile Apple, like most Android phone makers, don't publish the information needed for third parties to make drivers for their hardware. Which is why you can't install the latest Android on an iPhone 4. And what is Google supposed to do about that? But Apple could do something about it.

The last update for the iPhone 5S was iOS 12.4.8, released July 15, 2020. In the meantime, various vulnerabilities were found in e.g. Safari [1]. I don't believe all of that is backported into iOS 12.x.

[1] https://cve.mitre.org/cgi-bin/cvekey.cgi?keyword=safari

Apple probably sold more a hundred million airpods by now. Sure, it's not the biggest problem but it would make a difference. Plus, they have a history of making less repairable products so I think it's stil good to try to convince them to do it better.

So long as you accept that if it's expected that only 1 in 10 people repair their airpods, this only helps if making them repairable results in less than a 10% increase in materials used, while not increasing failure rate at all.

I can easily see how having a removable battery might increase failure rate in a product like this

This comments reads like you started out with a conclusion then worked backwards, filling in the holes without basis (e.g. replaceable batteries increase failure rates).

I’m curious how many Airpods it takes to produce as much waste as a single car.

You have to account for the fact that the car is dramatically more likely to be recycled.

You're saying what we've been saying about the environment for generations. Plastic replacing elephant tusk for billiard balls and cars replacing horses filling streets with dung made such small impacts and provided such benefit. Who would have imagined we'd fill the oceans with plastic and the atmosphere with greenhouse gases, among other waste problems?

Maybe these unintended side effect are worth considering more than we think.

Yes but have you seen how they care about the environment so much that they didn't include a charger and headphones?

They still include them in the apple store where they're now individually packaged creating even more waste. They just wanted to create an opportunity to upsell people on higher priced versions of both.

Apple has a recycling program. You get a few bucks back (in Apple credit) when you send them your old stuff, even from other manufacturers.


I’m very sensitive to environmental issues and keep my devices for a really long time, but being battery replaceable is not the panacea it appears to be.

People like to work themselves up about things like this, but the non-repairability of modern electronics is a simple matter of physics and economics.

The physics aspect is that the most straightforward way of assembling such tiny and lightweight devices and have them be at least somewhat waterproof is to glue them together.

The economics aspect is more important.

I just had my AirPods break last week. I took them to an Apple store and they were replaced under warranty for $0. This still felt expensive, because it took half of my Saturday to drive to an Apple store, sit around while they tested the device, and then drive home. Simply having my free time wasted is -- to me -- a comparable opportunity cost to simply paying for a pair of replacement AirPods.

In general, everything breaks, and eventually is simply not worthwhile repairing because replacement with a newer model with more features is a more attractive proposition. Making things repairable is more expensive, so there's a tipping point where it is counterproductive for manufacturers to design their products for longevity.

This tipping point changes with the wealth of nations over time. As people's time becomes more and more expensive, bothering to repair cheap gadgets becomes less worthwhile. Paying for someone to repair them becomes increasingly expensive.

Repair is a service, electronic gadgets are products.

As the cost of services increases relative to manufacturing, the tipping point moves.

Of course, there's always going to be the complainers bemoaning the changing times.

These complaints are literally stating: "I don't like manufactured products getting so cheap that they can be simply thrown away! I prefer the good old days of relative poverty where people had to resort to expensive services to repair even more expensive products! I miss those times!"

Don't listen to the Luddites, embrace the increased wealth of nations made possible through manufacturing automation.

I think it's possible to bemoan the environmental impact without being a Luddite who would prefer "the good old days of relative poverty".

Your other points are valid and it's certainly clear why manufactured electronics are the way they are, but it's unclear how the goalposts could be shifted to encourage environmental responsibility.

In their recent iPhone 12 presentation, Apple made it very clear that they are one of the more environmentally friendly electronics manufacturing companies in the world.

They have a net zero carbon footprint, they recycle as much material as it is feasible to do so, and they've even worked hard to source rare earth metals responsibly.

Meanwhile people are frothing at the mouth because the tiniest, most compact device they make isn't modular.

That's just asinine.

Your apologism really rubs me the wrong way to be honest, and you've made such a strange, strongly-worded conclusion not at all supported by evidence.

Laptops with batteries, for instance, aren't "luddite" technology. Plenty of companies still make them. There's other ways of connecting a battery to chassis even in a small form factor like AirPods. For instance, a threaded base that screws in. It's not rocket science.

What you're saying is that Apple, the great innovator, can't find a way to make replaceable battery in a clean and elegant form factor for a small device, and that's the reason that nations are wealthier now than they used to be?

C'mon now, that's hard to make with a straight face isn't it? Failure is now success. Private profiteering at the expense of the environment is technophilia. Feels a lot like Owellian doublespeak to me.

tl;dr: Apple spends $16B per year on R&D. They can figure out how to screw a battery into an AirPod, and no, that's not why we're all wealthy now. It's why Apple is wealthier now.

A non-replaceable battery in an AirPod makes perfect sense to me — AirPods are tiny. Laptops are a different story entirely.

I just don't see why that's the case though, regardless of size, why fill dumps with perfectly functional technology because a consumable part is glued instead of screwed in? There's no justification, especially at the $300 price point.

I guess my question is, why are you championing e-waste? What benefit do you get from losing the ability to replace a battery?

You're thinking emotionally, not looking at the actual numbers.

A laptop is a physically large device, typically in the $1000 range, and the "overhead" of a screw is negligible.

Did you watch the video? AirPods are a marvel of modern engineering! They're incredibly, astonishingly packed full of fantastically miniaturised parts. This is absolute bleeding edge stuff.

A screw, no matter how tiny, would absolutely be a problem. You'd also have to make the battery "loose" and not glued in, add a connector for it -- but not one that could work loose from normal shaking.

This is a borderline physically impossible problem that's just not worth it to solve.

What volume do you think all the AirPods in the world take up in rubbish tips?

No, seriously. Let us sit down and compute this:

At least one site is claiming that Apple sold 60 million AirPods in one year.

The charging case is 44.3 x 21.3 x 53.5 mm and together with the two AirPods weighs 44 grams.

That's 2,640 tons annually: https://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=44+grams+*+60+million

... or about 20% of the trash produced by New York daily,

And in terms of volume, it is a little more than the volume of an Olympic swimming pool: https://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=44.3+mm+*+21.3+mm+*+53...

You'd also have to factor in that adding a screw doesn't mean that 100% of all AirPods are recycled in perpetuity, but that more like 20% might have their lifespan extended one or two years at most before the owners lost or broke them.

Now keep in mind that Apple sells over half of all wireless headsets globally, so the sum total annual e-waste is double those numbers above, roughly speaking. Not exactly the end of the world.

Or to put it another way, I own a set of AirPod+case that weigh 44 grams. I bought them a year ago. The 4g airpods got replaced after 1 years, generating 4g of e-waste in the first year of ownership. I intend to keep these for at least one more year, generating twenty-something grams of waste in annualised terms.

I just took out the family garbage today, it was several kilograms. I have a small family.

I'm not approaching this emotionally.

I suggest once again that defeatism and apoligism has led you to believe that Apple could build an "engineering marvel" in AirPods, but couldn't figure out a non-permanent attachment mechanism for a battery that doesn't otherwise compromise the product and the experience. Remember, we're not even talking about user-serviceable. Just, you know, serviceable.

> This is a borderline physically impossible problem that's just not worth it to solve.

Wouldn't you not have said the same about any aspect of AirPods before? No wire between them? Smooth hand-off?

I mean, think about it, they were able to miniaturize all those parts, solve all the difficult electrical engineering and software challenges, but somehow they're just physically incapable of finding a non-permanent battery attachment mechanism? Do they not have access to all the world's best mechanical engineers?

> No, seriously. Let us sit down and compute this:

We agree creating tons and tons of waste, well that's bad. Where we apparently disagree is that because this is a "small" amount of waste it doesn't matter. As though a lot of small amounts of waste together do not form big waste? If we let Apple get away with building thoroughly unrepairable devices, why would we stop anyone? And suddenly we're right back where we started.

Everyone needs to engineer with reparability in mind, and yes, the biggest tech company in the world is a great place to start. Especially one with 50%+ margins, as thus, could very easily afford to try.

As a final note, to be clear, I didn't suggest adding a screw. I suggested threading the base. However, I am not a mechanical engineer, those are the folks who I would trust to come up with a solution to this problem.

I'm not even arguing about this per se, I reject the theory that anyone who believes in reparability is a luddite and that there's no way to increase the wealth of nations without being as aggressively wasteful as possible.

Ok, so I don't think airpod waste is a big deal in the grand scheme of things.

But I also don't think I'm a luddite re: disposable electronics. I think I'm the opposite. I agree that as integration and product complexity increase, it makes more sense to make a new thing from feedstock than repair an old thing.

But what we can do is recover the resources used in manufacture. Critically, the product needs to be made in a way that supports this.

I want manufacturing to be so advanced that "full circle" resource recovery is incorporated into the design. The glues have corresponding (low toxicity) solvents for disassembly, the plastic can be cheaply digested back to clean monomers, the metals easily separable. No "retrofit" processes with show pony robots, but full "reverse manufacturing" facilities built with the same care and attention as the ones that make the product.

The thing I want is more automation, and more advanced design.

The thing is, this is repairability and Apple don't want to see it.

If you can reverse the glue, then it means there's going to be some guy who gets really good at this and sets up a mall shop where he does it for you for like 10% the price of replacement and throws in a warranty because he can.

Boom goes your profit margin.

Repairable electronics are always preferable to non-repairable electronics, all else being equal.

If Samsung can make pods with replaceable batteries, then power to them.

Have a look at process to replace those batteries. I doubt that even 1% of them gonna get new batteries.


Every aspect of technology requires time to perfect. This means they are already 1 iteration ahead of Apple.

I'm willing to bet their next ones won't have it.

Yes, because the market only loves incremental improvements when the user profits, not when the environment does.

There's another economics aspect relevant here, which is that environmental costs are unpriced externalities (unless the government intervenes).

The economic logic of non-circular economy is sound only for the parties with a direct, short-term economic stake in it (you, Apple, and its suppliers). The system compensates you for your time wasted driving to the Apple store, but does it sufficiently compensate people whose children grow up in the midst of pollution from mining or landfills?

> Repair is a service, electronic gadgets are products.

There’s a name for this effect—Baumol’s cost disease.


Enjoy the wealth of nations until the seas rise at least...

> This still felt expensive, because it took half of my Saturday to drive to an Apple store, sit around while they tested the device, and then drive home.

But that's exactly why you want repairable products. It takes less time to fix something yourself with a standard screw driver and inexpensive commodity parts than to travel to the manufacturer's facility and prove to their satisfaction that it's broken so they'll replace the entire product.

What you really want is products that work like legos, so that no individual piece costs more than $25 and anybody can replace what's broken in five seconds without expert knowledge or specialized tools. To minimize labor costs.

It’ll be interesting to see your design for AirPods based on inexpensive commodity parts. :)

Part one, battery; part two, Bluetooth radio; part three, speakers; part four, chassis; part five, etc.

This is not arcana.

But you're missing part zero: Fit all these objects in your ears, comfortably, without them weighing too much or sacrificing on sound quality.

I think it is arcana, because there's no real competition to the AirPods, all other similar products are huge and ugly, or have terrible battery life, or terrible bluetooth, or some combination.

It's hard to design a good Bluetooth radio, or a good battery etc. It's not hard to screw them together.

But Apple makes the individual parts themselves and won't sell them to anybody else.

All of this is rationalization. It's just planned obsolescence. Nobody on goddamn Hacker News is a Luddite. The Luddites weren't even Luddites the way you're using it, which is just a slur for an imagined cranky old man as afraid of technology as Phil Hartman's Frankenstein's monster is afraid of fire.

The economics are that you want products that you sell to be rendered useless as soon as possible, barring the possibility that the customer becomes so resentful that they switch products. So you claim that features that will eventually destroy a product are necessary to make it appealing, you hide the costs of replacing the product through purchase schemes and equivocations about the environmental impact, and you denigrate older models as horrifically, irresponsibly dangerous.

> Of course, there's always going to be the complainers bemoaning the changing times.

This is a vapid argument that can be used to defend anything from New Coke to the Holocaust.

Just to counter, the samsung galaxy buds+ have replaceable coin cell lithium batteries. You can even replace the battery in the case. Assuming you're technical, otherwise a 3rd party repair shop could do it.

Is there a set of earphones that's repairable? Not full-size cans, but earphones?

Most of the ones I've had have that have failed did so at the cable connection. Without the cable I'd imagine these will last longer than your average pair of earphones, and I don't see them creating much more waste; less if anything.

The video says that samsung has their own version of an airpod that has a replaceable battery. Anyone can repair/replace a damaged headphone cable although it's sometimes not very easy. If it breaks at/near the plug it'll be a lot easier.

With builtin non-removable batteries, companies should be forced to put an expiration date on the package just like on milk. Good for use until 2024.

For all the people saying "they are tiny" "it is such a small amount of plastic" yes but that is not the point. The point is about the greater trend to make products less repairable by the end user.

No shit. They are headphones.

It’s a very small amount of plastic and metal. It really doesn’t matter.

I once did some napkin math to figure out how many Teslas worth of lithium ion battery have been made (total). I was expecting dozens, but came up with low thousands. (Gotta factor in the case, after all.) Still insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

Worrying about the environmental impact of AirPods is like legislating shower flow while turning a blind eye to the useless millions of acres of lawns and the water they suck up (1.7 trillion gallons vs 234 trillion gallons). Dumb, a bit insulting.

yeah, an ultimate first world problem. A single average Costco trip produces 10 times more plastic waste.

What the hell do you even hope to fix in something that small and who else would you trust to repair something that expensive?

There are people that repair tiny parts in expensive watches for decades now. And they can do that easily because those watches are designed to last and to be repairable. I don't see how either of your arguments are valid. Especially if your thing is expensive you want to repair it instead of replace it. And concerning trust: We repair expensive cars regularly without any trust issues.

Are these expensive watches $200, or $2000(0)? It’s hard for me to imagine it being economically worthwhile to do intricate repairs on $200 watches, or that it would end up costing less than buying a new watch.

Depends on the nature of the repair. Most smartphone fixes don't cost $200.

Moreover, products designed to be repairable have low repair costs, and don't require uncommon expertise to repair.

You don't need a specialized shop staffed with electrical engineers to replace the batteries in your TV remote.

This does not really cover "repair" at all, but replacing the battery costs ~10€ at my local jeweller, including the battery itself. I can go there, hand over the watch, go to another shop for groceries or something and return after 10 minutes and they're done.

If Apples products are designed that way, there is no reason why it could not be the same (at least for batteries). Watches have usually the same constraints: Water tight, less/no screws, small, intricate.

Of course, lithium batteries are more expensive, but that's it.

No one is servicing the movement of a $200 watch. Just cleaning / oiling by a skilled watchmaker costs at least $200, and repairing any damage would probably cost closer to $1000.

The parts in expensive watches are huge by comparison with the parts in these kinds of electronic products.

A tiny balance jewel might be 0.6mm in diameter. The smallest surface mount components are now (I think?) 0201 metric - i.e. 0.2mm x 0.1mm. Plus a balance jewel is not a two-terminal component that needs to be soldered in place.

There are bus ticket collectors too, not that their hobby matters anymore.

Airpods are on the cheap end of the spectrum of things people routinely have repaired by 3rd party shops. This is common for phones/computers, appliances, expensive watches, cars, and gas landscaping tools. TVs, hifis, and more were often independently serviced back when they had discrete parts that could be replaced.

Getting someone other than apple to fix them is an inherent tradeoff that trades trust with money. Fact of the matter is, the way these are you either have to get apple to repair them for an extortionate amount, or throw them away, which is objectively bad for the environment.

So you decide to trust someone else, you've likely done your due diligence, and ended up with a professional that claims to do it for half the price.

I had to replace my Mum's Macbook Pro's track pad, and while I have the general knowhow (as in, replace laptop parts), I wasn't willing to do it myself because I'd never done it before, and looking at the steps required I probably wouldn't have had the patience to do it due to the billions of things they'd done to prevent me from doing it. So I went to Apple, who quoted me £350+. Not willing to shell out that much considering it was a 2012 model, I went to my local computer shop, who quoted me ~£90, told me about all the issues that might arise, but he'd happily do it otherwise.

By comparison, I had to replace my Dell XPS's track pad less than a month ago. It was extremely easy. A bunch of screws, and remove random parts. Then pop out the trackpad, replace it with the working one, and lastly replace all the parts I'd taken out and screw them back in. It took all of 30 minutes.

For sure there will always be bad technicians, but the majority know what they're doing and maybe they break the first one or two, but after that they'll be fine. Providing the technician isn't purposefully malicious, the likelihood of someone going wrong (or your trust being broken) is relatively low.

So sure it's small, but given the right setup, most technicians who repair for a living will learn to repair it safely and accurately for a fraction of the price.

Small? So what? Never seen someone use a microscope to solder before?

nobody who charges less than $100/hr

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact