New Apple MacBook ties for worst repairability score ever – ExtremeTech
It’s no secret Apple doesn’t give a fig for do-it-yourself device repair, but some of its laptops, iPhones, and tablets have been friendlier than others. The new MacBook, it turns out, is decidedly on the unfriendly end of that scale. The iFixit team has published its exhaustive step-by-step teardown of the MacBook, and declared (with near-visible frustration), “It’s like they took note of iFixit’s repairability scale, and actually tried to hit zero.”
The full teardown is available online, but it’s not a happy read for anyone who likes being able to replace broken hardware. Not only does the MacBook retain the “standard” Apple features, like pentalobe screws and glued-down batteries, the entire system has been designed using “futuristic pegs and weird spring clips.”
“If it ain’t broke, make it out of, like, three more metal pieces in funky shapes.” — Frustrated iFixit personnel, channeling Apple hardware designers.
The step-by-step teardown isn’t without positives — iFixit calls the motherboard / logic board “lovely,” and Apple’s hardware designers have done a masterful job of squeezing equipment into the tiny chassis — but all that squeezing comes at a high cost. Fragile cable connections, odd cable routing, and glue abound in this configuration.
The battery comes in for particular criticism on this regard. Every battery cell, even the centermost, is firmly glued down. Because they all sit in wells, the only way to extract them is pry them out from over the lip of the aluminum wall. The entire keyboard is screwed down with a whopping 83 pentalobe screws. Individual keys can be replaced relatively easily, but actually replacing the keyboard circuit board would be a nightmare. Fortunately, this doesn’t happen much.
Combine all the glue, solder, fused display, and the incredibly difficult-to-replace USB-C connector, and the new MacBook is nearly impossible to service. And as with other recent Macs, there’s not even a RAM upgrade option.
Has user-repair already lost the fight?
iFixit has devoted itself to championing the cause of user repair, and the site’s teardowns are a gold standard in the business. But it’s hard not to feel as though user repair has already lost its case. I’m not claiming nobody cares about the ability to replace components or simply add storage to a device. It’s clear from user feedback around devices like the Samsung Galaxy S6 that some buyers care a great deal about having expandable options, while others want products they can tweak or repair themselves, rather than paying hundreds of dollars to a third party.
What’s less clear is whether iFixit’s advocacy, or the desires of the DIY enthusiasts, have had much impact on recent consumer product design. As companies push thinner form factors, replaceability is often eliminated, even where it didn’t necessarily have to be. Thinness continues to be treated like an absolute necessity, even though most smartphones these days require bulky cases to protect them.
A quick check of iFixit’s repairability score index doesn’t show a dramatic trend towards user-hostile devices. But it doesn’t show a clear trend towards more-repairable hardware, either. Samsung appears to have peaked in 2013 with the Galaxy S4; the S5 was significantly worse than its predecessor in this regard. iPhones have bumped around the 5-7 range, but the most recent devices — the iPhone 6 Plus and iPhone 6 — rank the highest of any Apple smartphone.
One thing that stands out in iFixit’s rankings is the total lack of consistency. A company that ships an easy-to-repair smartphone one year may ship a bottom-of-the-barrel device the next. Given such disparities, it’s hard to claim that any major OEM is treating user-friendly repair as a consistent target.