The new Apple AirPods 2 get a big fat zero for repairability

taking apart the airpod
CC BY-NC 3.0 Ifixit

iFixit took them apart, but they can't put them together.

We have often complained about the way Apple products are put together in ways that make them so difficult to service, but have also admired their quality and durability; my old 2012 MacBook Pro is still going strong, and I have never had a computer that lasted so long.

On the other hand, our friends at iFixit keep telling us that "if you can't fix it, you don't own it." And after their teardown of the new improved AirPods 2, Apple appears to have sunk to a new low with a big fat zero score for repairability.

The batteries are not replaceable and apparently wear out rather quickly, so iFixit tells us that you really don't own them at all; instead they say, "Welcome to the $100/year AirPods Subscription Service."

The teardown of the AirPods is messy and destructive. They have to heat them to soften glue, bathe them in alcohol, squeeze them in vises, slice them with ultrasonic knives, pry them with dental picks. "Our badges say Teardown Engineer, but today we feel more like surgeons, or paleontologists. Paleosurgeons?"

They conclude:

  • AirPods are not designed to be serviced. No hardware components can be accessed without damage to the device.
  • Sealed-in batteries limit the AirPods' lifespan, making them a consumable/disposable item.

Apple will replace the batteries, for US$49 each. They probably just send out new AirPods, given that they retailed for $159 per pair.

Apple is making a lot of money from services these days, but even more than the iPhone, the AirPods are, as iFixit notes, more of a service or a rental than a product. They are hugely successful; according to Jon Wilde in GQ, they are taking over America's ears.

Apple doesn’t release numbers, but one industry analyst estimated last winter that up to 16 million AirPods were sold in 2018—and predicted that Apple could sell 55 million this year, and up to 110 million in 2020. The numbers seem to insinuate that AirPods might be Apple’s best-selling product.

That's a lot of electronic waste if they really only last two years. As Katherine has written,

Repair is a deeply environmental act. It prolongs the lifespan of an item and reduces demand for new, conserving resources and saving money. It keeps items out of landfill, which decreases the risk of leaching chemicals and heavy metals, and spares developing nations from having to deal with a surplus of unwanted goods in unsafe conditions. It incentivizes quality production, decreases toxic mining, and creates jobs in independent repair shops.

Apple can, and should, do better. (Written on my new MacBook Air, which had better last more than two years.)

The new Apple AirPods 2 get a big fat zero for repairability
iFixit took them apart, but they can't put them together.

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