Obligation: smartphone manufacturers have to deliver spare parts and updates longer

Manufacturers of smartphones and tablets in the European Union (EU) will have to supply spare parts for seven years and software updates for five years. The rules are therefore stricter than proposed by the EU Commission. According to its own statements, the German government was able to push through some of its demands in the final round of negotiations last week.

A spokesman for the Federal Ministry for the Environment told c’t that they had “successfully campaigned” for manufacturers to have to make spare parts available for seven years in the future. The Commission had originally set deadlines of five years for smartphones and six years for tablets.

In the negotiations, the federal government also demanded that the manufacturers have to deliver security and function updates for seven years. “As a result, it was possible to agree on five years for everyone by way of a compromise,” said the spokesman for the Ministry of the Environment. In its draft, the commission had planned three years of functional updates and five years of security updates.

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However, manufacturers will have more time to prepare. The requirements are now set to take effect 21 months after adoption, rather than 12 months as originally proposed. It should be ready by the end of 2024.

The longer transition period looks “at first like a further delay in the right to repairs, but it is a reasonable period to allow manufacturers to adapt their device designs,” commented Karsten Schischke, an expert in sustainable electronics at the Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Microintegration IZM. After all, the devices that are to be launched in 2025 are already being developed.

The availability of spare parts for seven years poses “foreseeable logistical challenges for the manufacturers, especially when components are discontinued by the suppliers,” added Schischke. “I therefore expect a positive effect in that manufacturers attach even more importance to durability when designing devices, so that they only have to keep spare parts in small numbers and prevent repairs from occurring in the first place.”

From the point of view of consumer and environmental protection organizations, the rules that have now been passed do not go far enough. For example, they criticize the fact that manufacturers can continue to make repairs more difficult with software measures, for example by linking spare part serial numbers to the operating system (“part pairing”). “The EU has not gone as far as giving consumers a real right to repair. Manufacturers and retailers will continue to control who repairs their devices through part pairing,” said Mathieu Rama of the Environmental Coalition on Standards (ECOS).

Another point of criticism concerns the prices for spare parts. It is “particularly disappointing” that manufacturers do not publish maximum prices and have to stick to them, said Orla Butler of the European Environmental Bureau (EEB). Butler is now demanding that the prices for spare parts should at least be included in the repairability index, which the EU will finally decide on in December.

The extension of the delivery time for spare parts is “a silver lining”, commented ECOS. Periods for spare parts and updates begin after the last copies of a model have been delivered to retailers. Manufacturers only have to make most spare parts available to repair shops, some such as displays but also to users. ECOS has the full text of the final draft regulation released (PDF).

The manufacturers’ association Digitaleurope did not comment on the now extended spare parts and update obligations until the publication of this report and referred to an older one opinion. In it, the association warns of a “potential overproduction” of spare parts, which would then have to be stored and possibly destroyed. This would waste resources and drive up costs for consumers.


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