How Europe wants to make our smartphones more durable

European Commission regulators are currently pushing to make our smartphones and tablets more sustainable. The project suggests extending the duration of update tracking and facilitating repair.

It is sometimes difficult to measure their ecological impact, but there is no doubt that our smartphones are polluting. This question has been of concern to public authorities and in particular in Europe for several years. In an initiative that is part of the action plan for a circular economy, European Commission regulators are expressing their desire to make design of “sustainable” mobile phones and tablets “. This project aims to ensure that our smartphones and tablets “are designed to be energy efficient and sustainable” ; that we can “Easily repair, upgrade and maintain them and finally that these devices “can be reused and recycled”.

What is the current situation ?

Published on August 31, the draft act warns that smartphones and tablets “are often replaced prematurely by users”. Moreover, they are not “not sufficiently used or recycled”. The European Commission estimates that this has a cost in terms of resources used and materials not recycled. She adds that increasing the lifespan of these devices from 2-3 years to 5 years would be equivalent to remove up to five million cars from circulation.

What does the European Union offer?

First, Europe wants to implement a minimum duration for software updates. If manufacturers have been making efforts for a few years; this is sometimes insufficient and random depending on the brand or model chosen. For an Android device, this would be upgrade to three years of major updates (Android 13, 14…) and five years of security patches.

In addition, the novelties will have to be deployed within two to four months following their publication. Note that this measure would only apply to models sold in Europe. It would be good news for Android users.

5 years update for all smartphones

Indeed, this approach would be comparable to what Google currently offers with its Pixel 6. After offering three years of updates, the Mountain View giant recently revised its policy to get closer to Apple or Samsung. The Apple brand, with iOS, is often presented as a benchmark for tracking its iPhones. On his side, Samsung has decided to offer four years of Android updates and five years for the safety. However, not all models of the brand are housed in the same boat. For other manufacturers, it depends on the smartphones and it usually varies between two and four years.

Google Pixel 6 update
Google’s update policy. © Screenshot / Google

In addition to expanding software support, the EU wants smartphone manufacturers and vendors to make available “Professional” parts and repair services. These would be available for at least five years after the date on which the smartphone is withdrawn from the market. These repairers would have access to many elements that can be replaced: battery, camera, charging port, screen, buttons, speakers, microphones, hinges for folding models.

More reliable batteries… or removable ones

the battery case particularly attracts attention. Indeed, the project plans to offer two choices to smartphone manufacturers:

  • Go back to removable batteriesas was previously the case for many Android models.
  • Offer batteries that meet EU requirements. These should keep at least 83% of their capacity rated after 500 load cycles, and 80% after 1000 cycles.

As an example, Apple states that a battery is designed to retain up to 80% of its original capacity after 500 full charge cycles. At Android, the speech is more random even if some manufacturers highlight their efforts; this is particularly the case of Oppo / OnePlus. The firm ensures that the battery of several of its models (Find X5 Pro, Reno 8, OnePlus 10T); retains at least 80% of its capacity after 1,600 charge cycles. This corresponds to approximately 4 years of use.

This project follows the EU’s decision to impose USB-C connectivity on various devices from 2024. It is currently under discussion and the timetable foresees adoption by the Commission. in the fourth quarter of 2022. However, we will still have to wait at least another year before it comes into force. If agreed, we can expect this measure to shake up the strategy of manufacturers on a global scale.

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