Edition 49
Technical Trends - Does Repair Extend Ecosystems ?
by Bryant Underwood, Public Safety Sourcing, Cassidian Communications

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This week here in Texas there is huge buzz regarding the SXSW show in Austin. At the show and in the media this week there has been high interest in Google Glass and the new Samsung Galaxy S4. The template applied to the stories in the popular media have sought to pit Samsung against Apple and all against Google and who will win the next wave of the handset war? I wanted to share a little different take on all this and share with you a secret area where I believe that Apple is dominating the market competitively and that success is all about how repair is a key component to the Apply Ecosystem.


In the cellphone business the vast majority of folks that have a smart phone have a contract with the carrier. That contract limits what they can do with the phone if it beaks even if they have ‘insurance’ or an extended warranty. Even with these types of coverage the user can still be exposed to significant out of pocket fees for the repair. For example, the user may have to pay for shipping, or for shop-fees to cover chemicals or the damage may be declared abuse and all coverage voided. To fill this niche there have been a host of local repair shops spring up across the US. I first saw this informal repair show up in the US on college campuses. There you will find engineering students that are performing dorm-room repairs for their class mates. On campus the currency for payment is most often food, beer, class notes and sometimes even money. That model has expanded into the larger market and now any place that has a shopping mall will have at least one cellphone/tablet repair shop. Larger cities will have dozens of these. In the Dallas area one of those shops is owned by Mike Inthavong. I stopped by his store in order to better understand some of the trends going on in repair. What I learned from Mike is crucial in understanding how important ‘repair-ability’ is to sustainable product success.

In talking to Mike about business and volumes I noticed the only major volume he was seeing was for apple products. This included tablets, phones and iPods. As we discussed this at length let me summarize the meat of what Mike was telling me.

- When Samsung or other Android based products come in for repair they have two types of problems; either they have a broke screen or they have some version conflict with the Android OS that has caused apps the owner needs to stop working.
- Apple products almost never have a SW issue and if they do an iTunes flash will fix it. For all other failures the failure can be repaired easily and there are widely available parts.

So when Customers come in with some of these other products there is really nothing he can do. Mike went onto explain that the Samsung product is the toughest. The main issue in repairing those is the bonding of the LCD to the frame. The adhesive if extremely aggressive and seems imperious to separating from heat. The result is that any effort to perform a repair will usually worsen the damage. The OS version conflicts can be repaired but the most economic way to do this is to reflash back to stock configuration. This almost never makes the Customer happy, so these repair approaches are avoided. Couple these OS version complexities with very limited availability of parts and you can see why repair is costly. Mike is not alone in the experience he has with success in non-Apple repair. Bill Detwiler who writes brilliant repair analysis at TechRepublic has made similar observations regarding the permanent assembly methods and the risks they create for successful and economic repair. Mike then gave me a tour of his shop. I snapped the photo below of broken LCDs from Apple Tablets that Mike had under a work bench.


While many look at this and see a pile of defective LCDs, repair folks like you and I instead see happy Customers. Let’s face it. People drop stuff. When they do, it WILL often break. Having a product that is designed in a manner to allow for repair and having an open view of parts availability is a huge adder to product value. In fact easy repair is really a valuable part of the Ecosystem that gives the product extended usefulness. In this area, Apple is winning! In addition having repair friendly design keeps costs low and minimizes the environmental impact of waste. No different than iTunes or an Apple Genius.

With the price of these smart phones and tablets, I do not see how Customer Satisfaction cannot be negatively impacted if the product cannot be repaired economically after the warranty has expired. Whether by design or accident, this is brand where repair-friendly design and wide parts availability is keeping Customers happy and in the Ecosystem.
RLM
Bryant Underwood manages Public Safety Sourcing for Cassidian Communications, an EADS North America Company in Frisco Texas.

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