Repair, Refurbish or redesign?

I posted this as a response to some of the very short sighted comments and rant going on over on PoguesPosts, the latest in Technology from NY Times reporter/columnist David Pogue. The topic was about replacing a broken screen on an iPhone and the $245 cost.

Universally though both David and all 108 posters before me seemed to completely miss is the opportunity to do things better, not to gripe about Apples costs, or the poor or otherwise design of the iPhone. So, here’s my take on it.

“I think the point is that we and the companies that we buy from, HAVE to start being much more responsible with our electronic goods from the point of design.

Is it unreasonable to expect the designers of one of the best gadgets in the last few years to think about how they are serviced, refurbished and disposed of, I think not.

We simply can’t go on forever buying stuff and dumping the old, unwanted broken stuff without regard. The designers have their part to play in this, as do the companies that sell us stuff. Why didn’t the designers expect to see a reasonable amount of broken screens? Why isn’t there a reasonably priced refurbishment program that replaces the outer case, scratched glass etc.

This is an important challenge and one we all need to rise to. It is simply not good enough to just keep dumping old electronic devices with no regard to where the raw materials, components for the next one come from, and where the waste goes from the last one.

Shame on Apple for not making it easier to replace a broken screen, shame on Apple for not providing a more cost effective repair service.”

{Edit: What really made me think of reposting this was because when I read the posted version(uneditable) I realised I’d missed a vital NO in “no regard” in the 2nd from last paragraph.}

7 Responses to “Repair, Refurbish or redesign?”


  1. 1 Mark Ferguson May 4, 2008 at 9:45 pm

    I totally agree with you. I was laughing and told my wife the other day we are marketing strategy experts and instead of just helping our clients we should start sending notes to companies like apple to make there product better. Every day we have some issues with a product or how it is made and are dumbfounded by how they build stuff. It is like people just don’t care or a bean counter calculated the failure rate and said just replace it and charge them because our faily rate is 4 % and only 2% of the people buying will get made enough to tell someone they are mad or hate the way our product works or what replacement parts cost. I had the same think happen on a dead pixel I had on another product and the company was like 2-3 is normal and it will cost 30 less than a new one to replace. UHHH OK will not buy your product again 🙂

  2. 2 Mark Ferguson May 4, 2008 at 9:47 pm

    Forgive the dang mistakes in the post. On meds and sick from Tony Hawks big spin at six flags…..English teacher would kill me.

  3. 3 James Governor May 13, 2008 at 9:31 am

    Mark this is a really great post, asking the right questions. Sustainable Design should be a given in any business, especially given Apple’s design heritage.

    It has been pointed out how much of Jonathan Ives and Apple’s design heritage follows the 1960s philosophies of Dieter Rams of Braun, back in the 1970s. http://gizmodo.com/343641/1960s-braun-products-hold-the-secrets-to-apples-future

    Interestingly enough however Rams core philosophy included green, whereas its not clear Apple’s does.

    • Good design is innovative.
    • Good design makes a product useful.
    • Good design is aesthetic.
    • Good design helps us to understand a product.
    • Good design is unobtrusive.
    • Good design is honest.
    • Good design is durable.
    • Good design is consequent to the last detail.
    • Good design is concerned with the environment.
    • Good design is as little design as possible.

    see bullet 9… greenmonk has written about Apple a couple of times. Alexendra Deschamps-Sonsino, CEO of Tinker-IT, wrote a great guest post on the subject of hackability and Apple’s failure to get it.

    http://greenmonk.net/cherish-the-air-just-because-you-can-doesnt-mean-you-should/

    We should not criticise Apple for anything other than a lack of hackability. Components need to be replaceable to extend the life of the devices we use. Throwaway electronics are by definition not sustainable. We also hammered Nokia recently because of its failure to adopt USB for its power cables.

    We need to consider the manufacturing and supply chain lifecycle, and the areas in which hackability is useful.

  4. 4 Chris McGrath May 13, 2008 at 9:42 am

    Good post. Made me think of this picture, taken in Ghana, that I saw recently in National Geographic: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2008/01/high-tech-trash/essick-photography. It’s not the Ghanians producing that waste…

  5. 5 Tim Walker May 13, 2008 at 12:20 pm

    Well said. To my mind, there are two things that can/should happen here:

    1. Consumers taking more responsibility for the disposal (and refurbishment, replacement, etc.) of the goods they buy — and by extension requiring more of the same responsibility from the suppliers of those goods. This can happen starting now, with no special effort: we just need to start demanding it.

    2. Governments can take more steps in the vein of “duty of care” — i.e. to require manufacturers of various goods to provide for their disposal. This is a long-term solution, because it will require legislation or regulation, and is sure to be opposed — because of the extra costs it imposes — by manufacturers. They’re within their rights to oppose it . . . but that doesn’t mean they ought to win in the long run.

    Meanwhile, companies that take aggressive steps in this direction (even if it’s something as small as Ikea’s phase-out of plastic bags) can reap wonderful p.r. benefits for themselves, while also reducing their costs.

  6. 6 cathcam May 13, 2008 at 2:17 pm

    Thanks for the comments James and Tim, I’m struggling to work out how to make a start on addressing some of these concerns for our products. While the servers are still a big-ticket line item they have value when repaired, and often long after their initial projected useful life. Even older Power servers still fetch a high enough price on ebay to make them worth re-selling.

    I’ve pointed your comments to one of the folks I mentor, who is participating in an upcoming IBM Academy of Technology Conference on green computing. Hopefully they can come up with some good starting points.


  1. 1 Reuse, recycle, repair - Oral-B disaster « Adventures in systems land Trackback on January 26, 2009 at 11:10 pm

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About & Contact

I'm Mark Cathcart, formally a Senior Distinguished Engineer, in Dells Software Group; before that Director of Systems Engineering in the Enterprise Solutions Group at Dell. Prior to that, I was IBM Distinguished Engineer and member of the IBM Academy of Technology. I'm an information technology optimist.


I was a member of the Linux Foundation Core Infrastructure Initiative Steering committee. Read more about it here.

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