A little wrench can make a big difference. In France, Apple, Samsung, Microsoft and other device makers are moving toward transparency and better long-term support for their products. They’re not doing this because they particularly want to, but to turn a little wrench-and-gear icon a nicer shade of green.
All these companies are complying with France’s new repairability rating law. This kind of scoring isn’t new to us—we’ve been rating products for over a decade, and we consulted in the development of the French index. Is this new system any good? Will it push manufacturers to make products easier to repair? The short answer is yes—but just like any product rating, the devil is in the details. Let’s take a deep dive into how the French system works and how it compares with iFixit’s scoring.
Five types of products sold in France—smartphones, laptops, televisions, washing machines, and lawnmowers—must prominently display their repair scores right next to the price. The scores, compiled by the companies themselves using detailed spreadsheets, cover five categories, each worth 20 percent: documentation, disassembly, availability of spare parts, price of spare parts, and product-specific assets.
As with many EU tech regulations, French repair index scores are self-declared. The scores are monitored by French market authorities, but there’s a tacit understanding that there will be no sanctions for the first year. The European Right to Repair coalition summarizes the main points (and caveats) of the index scores quite well: It’s a law, and it’s a detailed scoring spreadsheet, but the final score is not perfectly comparable between devices.
Even so, self-declared scores are already having an impact. To boost its score on the Galaxy S21+, Samsung amazingly, now freely offers a French repair manual for the device online. This is something we’ve been requesting for a long time—and French newspaper Le Monde says Samsung is the first major phone manufacturer to offer such a free manual. In the U.S., if you want a Samsung repair manual, you have to search on the third party site SamsungParts.com, purchase a $12 USB drive (plus $8 shipping), then wait for it to arrive in the mail. Right now, there’s no manual for the S21 in English—presumably because Samsung doesn’t gain any points by offering it here.
Microsoft is adding its own scores, and so is Google. Even Apple, never eager to talk about repair outside its own carefully crafted environmental messaging, just added repair scores to its French site.
So let’s take a look at Apple’s scores and see how they did. Apple awards iPhone 12 and its variants with 6.0 scores (out of 10), while iPhone 11 models pick up 4.5-4.6 scores. The brand-new, M1-powered MacBook Air earned a 6.5, while an M1 MacBook Pro earned a 5.6. Veteran readers of iFixit might notice that, particularly with MacBooks, our own repairability scores—which in part inspired France’s system—seem many kilomètres apart. (We’ve rated Apple’s recent laptops between a 1 and a 3. Our scoring is quite different from France’s system—we’ll address that in a post coming soon.)
Today, looking deep into these repair scores, on Apple’s own website (sorry, we’re having a moment here), you can learn a lot about how the grading works. Apple’s scoring sheets (iPhone 11, 12) are in French, in Google-translate-defeating PDFs. To make things easier for you, we’ve recreated them using France’s official English scoring sheets so you can see how the numbers come together.
Let’s put two familiar phones through a kind of Fantasy French Repair Index grading session.
iPhone 11 vs. 12: Tête-à-tête
The first category is repair documentation—something Apple has only rarely provided. Out of 10 category points, both the iPhone 11 and 12 receive a 6.2. Behind each of these numbers is a spreadsheet with ranking factors.
The big point gains are in pledging to offer actual repair information to both “Repairers” and “Consumers,” for extended periods of time—you get more points if you promise to keep them around for more than four years. Apple offers exploded views, wiring diagrams, error codes, equipment lists, and other repair details, but only to authorized techs through its private tool network. Consumers only get software reset and troubleshooting tips.
There are a lot of easy points here for things like having obvious product model numbers, information on “How to get access to professional repairers,” and “User and maintenance instructions.” We don’t know exactly how Apple got to 6.2, but you can eyeball it from the sheet. Apple’s authorized repairers get the technical stuff and consumers get the “try restarting it” text. That probably adds up to something like 6.2. Not very helpful if you don’t live near an authorized service center, but that’s how the scorecard works.
Let’s move on to our absolute favorite part.
There are three parts of the Disassembly criterion: what kind of tools are needed, how many steps does it take, and what kind of fasteners (screws, glue, etc.) hold down two categories of components.
The first challenge is how many steps it takes to remove the battery, display, front camera, rear camera, or “charger” (charging port). Points ramp up if the repair procedure can get done under 16, 11, or 6 steps; if it’s more than 16 steps, it doesn’t get any points. The idea behind this is that time is money, and complicated time consuming repairs are less economical then simple repairs.
The iPhone 11 earned 0.8 points from this section, while the iPhone 12 garnered 2.5 points. Without Apple’s item-by-item numbers, we can only guess. The iPhone 12 battery replacement process is a bit simpler thanks to a speaker redesign—that’s probably not worth 1.7 points, but it’s one thing that might move the numbers a bit. For necessary tools and fasteners, the iPhone 11 and 12 had the same net score.
“But wait,” you might be thinking, “what counts as a ‘step?’ And who is counting them?” These are great questions. Apple is the one reporting the number of steps to replace the battery in their own phones. France provides this diagram to determine what constitutes a single step:
Spare parts availability
The next 20% of the total score is Availability of Spare Parts. As with documentation, it’s heavy on multi-year commitment, but there’s also a “delivery time” component here. We’ve never factored delivery time of parts into our scorecard, but it’s a good idea! Parts are only useful if you can get them when you need them.
Similar to our scoring system, France gives heavier weight to more commonly broken or malfunctioning components (screens, batteries, front and back cameras, and “charger”), but still wants replacements for critical “functional” parts (motherboards, buttons, microphones, speakers). Products get points for how long, and how fast, their makers offer parts directly to production partners, spare parts vendors, repair technicians, and consumers.
As expected, both the iPhone 11 and 12 scored decently in availability of worn-out parts and worse for secondary, functional parts. The iPhone has long been designed for fast screen and battery swaps at the Apple store. Of course, Apple doesn’t make core parts available to anyone outside its own contracted repair circles, so for now Samsung will pick up a few points in this section over Apple. Still, by getting commonly broken parts to their chosen techs, and presumably quickly, Apple snags 9.3 out of 20 possible points for spare parts availability.
Spare parts pricing
Next up, the price of spare parts. This section is fascinating (in a nerdy spreadsheet kind of way), because the iPhone 11 earns zero points, while the iPhone 12 claims 12 points out of 20. It’s an all-or-nothing section, because if you don’t offer all of the commonly broken parts from the list in the last criterion (“List 2”), to either authorized techs or consumers, you have to take a zero for this whole 20-point section. Presuming you do offer all five of those parts, the other part of this score is based on a pricing ratio. You enter in the price of the whole device, the price of the most expensive spare part, and the average price of the other commonly broken parts. If your parts are too expensive, relative to buying a new device, you can wind up with zero points.
Without Apple’s own numbers for this section, we only have theories about the notable gap between the iPhone 11 and 12 scores in this criterion.
One notable difference between them is the retail price of each phone: the 11 cost $699 (U.S.) at launch, while the 12 cost $829. Assuming replacement parts cost about the same, simply raising the price of the device would produce a better ratio, and a higher “repairability” score. Then again, the in-store screen repair cost for iPhone 12 OLED screens is $279, while iPhone 11 LCD screens are $199. And the iPhone 12 doesn’t just have a non-zero score; it has a notable 12 points out of 20 in this sub-criteria.
There are a couple other factors that could be contributing to the score differential. Apple recently began offering rear case replacement modules for the iPhone 12, which includes a new logic board and a new charging port. Also, the iPhone 12 did not ship with a charger, and that $19 accessory could be changing the part cost pricing ratio. Without access to Apple’s calculations and a thorough independent audit, it’s difficult to say how they arrived at these numbers. But something gives the newest iPhone 60 percent of the points in this category, while the iPhone 11 fouls out.
Specific smartphone things: updates, assistance, resets
Finally, the last 20 percent of either iPhone’s score involves software information particular to smartphones (lawnmowers, washing machines, laptops, and televisions get their own Criterion 5, lucky dogs). The categories are “Information about type of updates,” “Remote assistance,” and “Type of reset software.” Most of the individual point questions are yes/no answers: do you provide detailed information about the updates you offer? Do you offer remote assistance with troubleshooting or fixes? Can one reset the firmware and operating system? Both iPhones notch a full 20 points here, which mostly makes sense. iFixit’s scoring system does not provide any points for this sort of thing.
Points aren’t everything
All that is how the iPhone 12 ends up 1.4 wrench-and-gear points ahead of the 11, and gets a light-green color instead of a yellow. The differences are in disassembly and spare parts: The iPhone 11 claims 4.3 for disassembly while the 12 earns a 5.9. And the 12 claims 12 points for spare parts availability that the 11 doesn’t get, for one of many possible reasons. It’s funny to think of Apple striving for a green bubble, but it makes a big difference here for two essentially similar devices.
Keep in mind when you see these repair scores: there are 20 points in the French system for just letting people know about security updates, having a support chat and/or FAQ, and offering a wipe-and-refresh option. There are points for having a decent model number that people can find. It’s the smartphone score equivalent of getting SAT points for just writing down your name. Then again, only the last criterion is specific to smartphones; there are definitely devices for which finding a model number is infuriating, and for which the reset procedure is a bit obtuse.
The European Right to Repair coalition notes some other quirks in the scoring:
There are weak points in the weighting of the individual criteria and sub-criteria. In this way, products for which spare parts are no longer available after two years, but which would otherwise be quite easy and easy to repair, can receive a high repair index. If the spare parts are missing, even the best design is useless.
On the flip side, consider that the mightily fix-able Fairphone 3+ earned an 8.7 out of 10 on this index. It picked up perfect scores in disassembly and software support, high scores in documentation and parts pricing, and only lost a little momentum with the availability and speedy delivery of non-consumable parts. A perfect 10 smartphone score would require being able to order a new charging port with 3-day shipping. That gives an 8.7 some important context.
The future is looking greener
What did we learn, after reverse-engineering Apple’s self-submitted grading of two iPhones? We saw some evidence that the French repair scores reflect real-world repairability, but we also saw that even detailed sub-categories can seem opaque without more information. The system considers some of the same important factors we review in our teardowns—and goes further, to its great credit. But there is also some deference to companies that prefer tight control of their repair networks. Then again, the French index is not meant to shame companies, but rather to foster the development of a broader circular economy in France and, eventually, broader Europe.
Make no mistake: this is a big step forward for fixers. France has created an arena in which smartphone manufacturers must compete to offer repair. And compete they will! You can already see the changes in the behavior of Samsung providing service manuals and spare parts directly to their customers. That is fantastic! If a manufacturer sees that their product scores a 5.9, but moving up to a 6 would give them a friendlier green score, they’ll probably make some overdue changes to to jump the gap.
We desperately need to make our gadgets last longer, and France is definitely moving the needle on responsible product design. A repair arms race—provided the entrants are held accountable—is a win for us all.