iFixit attempts to usher in a new age of user-repaired devices

You’re probably familiar with iFixit. We link to their teardowns and home fixing guides all the time on CrunchGear; they mostly focus on Apple, and their light and informative tone is a welcome addition to such a dry topic as hardware disassembly. Well, they’ve decided that merely providing help for Apple users isn’t enough, and are today launching a “global repair community” with the aim being user-level repairs of any device.

Such a project is well-timed; the relationship between user and manufacturer is becoming more one-sided. It doesn’t trouble you that the devices we use every day are so poorly documented, or constructed in such obscure ways, that one has to be an Apple-qualified technician or Dell customer service person to fix a simple problem? I’ve actually had a long post gestating on this very topic, and now iFixit has gone and eaten my lunch.

But good for them. It’s Earth Day, after all (as of one minute ago, if this deuced scheduler has worked correctly), and the consumption rate of devices has given them the air of disposability. Nothing could be further from the truth, of course: with some very minor exceptions, gadgets like the one you’re reading this on and the one in your pocket are full of toxic materials and non-reusable bits, both of which end up (back) in the hands of destitute Chinese laborers. Even device recycling services have a pretty weak success rate due to the fast-changing nature of the business. Can’t use last year’s logic board or chassis with this year’s models, can we now? And many don’t trust used electronics. Better to make the gear we have last longer, assuming we can master our neophilic tendencies.

The model iFixit is hoping to grow on is (naturally) a social one. After all, they are not in possession of every device ever, and wouldn’t have the time to do detailed teardowns even if they were. They’re relying on an existing community of users (and you, dear reader) to provide teardowns and some detailed instructions where necessarily, working along some basic guidelines. Guides will be editable, with a reputation system will promote helpful and accurate guides and contributors. They’ll be freely available online or as downloadable PDFs. I imagine the whole thing will be paid for by offering tools and replacement parts for popular devices. Or maybe they’ve got a goose somewhere that’s laying golden eggs. I think Palm had one of those for a while, but it may have recently quacked its last. Honked, whatever.

Currently they have repair manuals for every Apple device out there, covering a number of fixes, replacements, and troubleshooting tips. Their users have posted teardowns and manuals for a bunch of game consoles, cameras, mobile phones, and others — but of course, the devices of the world are like grains of sand on an infinite beach. And the beach is getting bigger every day. You think that’s a contradiction, but I say you just can’t handle this high-level stuff. Increase the quality of your understanding, lest your reputation score be affected. The point is that they’re going to need a lot of content creators.

I think this is an unmixed bonanza of good stuff. People commonly consider their devices black boxes only fixable by “experts,” and not just with stuff like iPhones and laptops. Faulty headphones, discolored HDTVs, clicky hard drives… even car stuff. If you’ve got motive and opportunity to take a screwdriver to ’em, all you lack is method. With luck, this iFixit database will grow like crazy, and it’ll become a standard resource like Wikipedia or CrunchBase. Whether internet-goers at large will be capable of following the directions (or even motivated to try) is still an unknown. But I’m guessing as the “black box” fix-it bills begin to swell, people may attempt home repairs if only to save some cash. Warranty? I think we all know most problems occur right after it expires.

If you’ve got expertise and a few obscure devices sitting around, think about contributing. It can be your Earth day contribution.