Technology Understanding the EU's fight for user-replaceable smartphone batteries

Understanding the EU’s fight for user-replaceable smartphone batteries

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If you’ve been online over the past week, you’ve probably seen a headline or two about the European Union’s vote for easy-to-replace batteries in smartphones by 2027. That’s based on a June 14 vote which the European Parliament voted for with an overwhelming majority an agreement that would revise the rules around batteries in the block.

The good news is that those headlines are fundamentally correct; the EU is moving forward with regulations designed to require smartphones to have batteries that are easier to replace, benefiting the environment and end users. But since this is the European Union, there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes. And it’s these details that could have a significant impact on how and when manufacturers will actually have to comply.

Competitive Law

For starters, the much-cited 2027 deadline for offering smartphones with more easily replaceable batteries doesn’t quite tell the whole story, according to Right to Repair Europe coordinator Cristina Ganapini. That’s because there is another piece of legislation is currently working on the EU legislative process called Ecodesign for Smartphones and Tablets. It includes similar rules to make smartphone battery replacements easier and is expected to go into effect earlier in June or July 2025. So by the time 2027 arrives, some smartphone manufacturers may have already sold devices with user-replaceable batteries in the EU for more than a year.

Replacing the battery in HMD’s Nokia G22, the kind of repair process the EU wants to bring to all smartphones.
Photo by Owen Grove/The Verge

According to a draft version of the Ecodesign Regulation on the EU website, batteries must be replaceable “with no tools, a tool or set of tools supplied with the product or spare part, or basic tools.” It also says spare parts should be available for up to seven years after a phone’s release, and, perhaps most importantly, “the replacement process should be able to be performed by a layperson.” The legislation is currently under scrutiny by the European Parliament and Council, and Ganapini expects it to pass into law in September this year, with requirements for smartphone battery copyability coming into effect a year and a half later.

Despite the overlap between the two pieces of legislation, the battery regulation voted by the European Parliament this month is still important. That’s because the battery regulation is stricter than the ecodesign regulation in an important way: it doesn’t provide a loophole that would allow smartphone manufacturers to avoid having their batteries easily replaced if they are able to make them last rather than . Specifically, they must maintain 83 percent of their capacity after 500 cycles and 80 percent after 1,000 cycles to qualify. Such devices should also be “dust-tight and protected against immersion in water up to a meter deep for a minimum of 30 minutes,” according to ecodesign rules — capabilities often achieved with glue.

“We would have preferred to see durability requirements alongside repairability requirements rather than leave the trade-off to manufacturers,” said iFixit’s repair policy engineer Thomas Opsomer. “That said, 83 percent capacity after 500 cycles and 80 percent capacity after 1,000 cycles is quite an ambitious requirement; it would probably translate into at least five years of use.

“A portable battery should be considered removable by the end user when it can be removed using commercially available tools”

It’s unclear exactly how many manufacturers’ smartphone batteries can meet the requirements for this lifespan loophole. For example, an Apple support page notes that a “normal battery” typically holds up to 80 percent of its original capacity after 500 full charge cycles. But maybe other manufacturers already supply batteries that last that long. Fairphone spokeswoman Anna Jopp tells me that the (fully replaceable) battery in the Fairphone 4 already meets these longevity requirements, while Oppo recently boasted that some of its batteries retain 80 percent of their charge after no less than 1,600 charging cycles.

In addition to not providing the loophole in longevity, Opsomer also points out that the battery regulation covers it all portable battery products; it extends far beyond the ecodesign regulations aimed at phones and tablets.

What actually makes a battery “removable”?

So what exactly does it mean that a smartphone battery is easy to replace? Much of the EU’s definition boils down to the tools needed for the procedure. While “removable” recalls the era of the feature phone or one of the Fairphone devices that only requires a fingernail to open, the definition used in the battery regulation voted on this month doesn’t go that far. Instead of requiring tool-less removal, the Battery Regulation instead places restrictions on the type of tools required to replace a battery. Here is the relevant section:

“A portable battery should be considered removable by the end-user when it can be removed using commercially available tools and without the use of specialized tools, unless provided free of charge, or proprietary tools, thermal energy or solvents to remove it. disassemble.”

Rather than advocating completely tool-less battery replacement, the wording of the regulation is aimed at preventing end-users from having to use proprietary tools or finicky processes. So the EU’s aim is less to turn any phone into a Fairphone 4, with its battery that you can take out in seconds with your bare hands, and more like the recent HMD Nokia G22whose Guide to replacing iFixit batteries still calls for the use of one or two basic tools. In other words, the G22’s battery can be replaced using commercially available tools that don’t seem very specialized and don’t require proprietary tools, solvents, or thermal energy, such as heat guns or a iFixit iOpener, which are designed to melt the glue some manufacturers use to hold components together. Simple, right?

A Google Pixel smartphone, in addition to the kind of tools needed to fix it.
Image: iFixit

Not so fast, says Opsomer of iFixit. He points out that while EU law only defines “basic tools, product group specific tools, other commercially available tools and proprietary tools”, it not define “specialized tools”. “This current specification could easily lead to a situation where, in order to replace a battery, a user would have to buy a tool that is in fact specialized but not officially defined as such,” says Opsomer, “the cost of which is easily could incur more than the cost of the replacement battery.”

So iFixit is urging lawmakers to consider a device user-repairable under the battery regulation if it can be repaired with “basic tools.” This category includes common screwdriver styles such as flathead, Phillips, and Torx, though Opsomer admits it likely includes some more niche tools, such as iFixit opening choices.

Another potential bone of contention is how user-replaceable batteries can go hand in hand with waterproofing. The battery regulation contains an exemption for devices “specifically designed to be used, for the greater part of the device’s active duty, in an environment regularly exposed to splashes, streams of water or immersion in water.” Opponents of such rules often bring up waterproofing as a feature that could suffer if a device is designed to be easily opened.

“A great success for the right to repair”

In a statement, Opsomer said the EU’s exemption is based on “unsubstantiated safety claims” and cited underwater flashlights as an example of a device that can provide both a user-replaceable battery and waterproof construction. In a YouTube video, repairman Louis Rossmann quotes the Samsung Galaxy S5 (IP67 – so it can be submerged in relatively shallow water for up to 30 minutes) and Sony XP10 (IP68 – which can be submerged in deeper water for extended periods of time) as well as phones with good water resistance that also offer removable batteries, although other recent, recoverable phones such as the Fairphone 4 (IP54 – offers splash water protection) and Nokia G22 (IP52 — protected against dripping water) perform less well.

A good start

Details aside, the result of this month’s vote on new battery regulations was widely welcomed by right-to-repair campaigners. Right to Repair Europe’s Ganapini called it “a great success for the right to repair”, while Fairphone’s legal adviser Ana-Mariya Madzhurova said the regulation will “further empower consumers by ensuring that batteries across all sectors are more durable, sustainable and better to be repaired.”

EU rules on user-replaceable batteries still have a long way to go, despite this month’s successful vote. The battery regulation will have to be formally ratified by the Council of the EU, while the ecodesign rules are still under scrutiny by the European Parliament. While the adoption of both sets of rules seems likely given their current progress, discussions are going on behind the scenes between different groups vying for looser or stricter interpretations of the written rules.

But in the years to come, it looks like smartphone buyers in Europe will have a much easier time keeping their devices going and not ending up in landfill after their batteries naturally degrade over time. And unless manufacturers want to produce devices with user-replaceable batteries that will only be sold in Europe, it looks like the rest of the world will benefit as well.

Shreya Christinahttp://ukbusinessupdates.com
Shreya has been with ukbusinessupdates.com for 3 years, writing copy for client websites, blog posts, EDMs and other mediums to engage readers and encourage action. By collaborating with clients, our SEO manager and the wider ukbusinessupdates.com team, Shreya seeks to understand an audience before creating memorable, persuasive copy.

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