Is it just me or was Apple’s announcement event this year especially soulless? Where once the fruit company seemed to make every product release into a music video work of art, these days they’re more infomercial than anything.
Maybe we can chalk that up to a new marketing team, or an attempt to strike a more serious tone as they highlighted the new life-saving features of their products. But maybe it’s simply this: the age of the flashy tech demo is over—it’s black rectangles all the way down, the same rituals year over year.
Yes, there have been phenomenal developments in AI and connectivity, even battery life and computing speed. But every device from every company now hits on these topics. Announcement bingo isn’t even fun any more, there are only so many times you can mock the predictable appearance of phrases like “X more percent than last year and Y% faster than last year, and Z is better than ever” before that gets dull too.
The last time I was surprised by a product announcement, Microsoft’s Chief Product Officer opened a Surface device right on stage, literally pulling the entire top half off. And while he did give a gentle warning, he explicitly didn’t say “don’t try this at home.” Instead he said the words “serviceability” and “repairability.” Words I’d never heard during a major product announcement, and would not have predicted given a hundred guesses.
It blew my mind.
This from the company that produced the only 0/10 laptop we had ever scored.
It felt like Goliath had finally blinked. For the first time in my career, a manufacturer was openly, and proudly agreeing with me. And not only that but it was just plain new. No one had ever done that before. Apple would surely never dare. In that moment, Microsoft was a market leader and a force for good in the tech world. We need more of that.
I’ve worked at iFixit for a while now. We are the biggest online repair database, we’re freely accessible, editable, and not ad-supported. We are here to examine product construction to keep the repair conversation going. We want to show the world where tech giants’ money is going, and shame the manufacturers into making smarter designs. As a resident of the planet earth, and a mother, I have a vested interest in improving things around here. But I’m also a writer, and it’s my job to sell things, too: ideas and knowledge mostly. So I do feel a kinship to marketers, and let’s be honest, we’re all bored of these releases. It’s time for change.
In 2022, a product announcement should not focus on a marginally better camera. We already know the newest iPhone will have a marginally better camera; it’s a given. The same goes for a marginally improved chip, or new al-yew-minium finish, and so on. In 2022, a tech product announcement should focus on what really matters; what can be demonstrably improved—repairability, sustainability, and reusability.
With that in mind, I’m here to share my recipe for the ideal product announcement; it’s time to get this stuff right. And marketers, I promise it’s some paradigm-shifting blue ocean action, just byob (bring your own buzzwords). It comes down to time, and repair.
What’s more important to a consumer, a 30-hour battery life? Or a 5-year battery life? Why measure images in megapixels and not a storage capacity of millions? To begin with, those numbers mean nothing without the complexity of invisible software—24 MP on a Samsung phone will look different than 24 MP on an iPhone. Even battery life will change based on your cell reception.
Let’s pick metrics that are more meaningful.
I want to know how long my phone will get that estimated 30 hour battery life. Imagine if a mechanic tried to sell you tires that lasted “up to 6 hours a day.” I want to know that my battery is of such high quality it will last longer than a presidential term. I don’t want to hear that it might last me through a Star Wars marathon.
For that matter, tell me how many photos of my son I can fit onto my phone before having to back them up to the cloud. Brag about how many years’ worth of text messages I can store. I actually attended a wedding where the Maid of Honor’s speech specifically bemoaned iMessage’s automatic deletion of text messages. She remembered vividly when the bride texted her about meeting the now-groom—but she couldn’t look up the specific text, it had long since been purged. I am constantly searching my texts for gift ideas—those off-hand, months-old links are invaluable.
These numbers are real. They matter to people. And yet Apple et al are stuck in the boring, theoretical world of bits and bytes and nanometers. It’s time to sell longevity; it’s time to sell sustainability.
And okay marketing, take a deep breath. You’re dreading selling the five-, or even ten-year phone, it sounds scary; it means you might sell fewer phones altogether. But listen, people are keeping their phones longer, and even if they aren’t keeping them forever, a five-year-phone is clearly superior in quality to a 2-year-phone. It’s an easy sell!
Jony Ive had one thing right, quality matters. People want a gold watch, it makes them feel good. But, they don’t want a watch with an expiration date. I’d argue that the Apple Watch Edition was Jony—and Apple’s—greatest failure: an ostentatious, disposable hunk of gold-plated e-waste. A Rolex isn’t just valuable because of its quality raw materials. A Rolex is valuable because it stands the test of time. It’s a brand built on perpetual repair. Now I’ll grant you that no one is going to be passing down their iPhone to their grandkids, not yet anyway. But people spend a lot of money on quality running shoes.
Stuff wears out, it’s a fact of life. But if your stuff wears out later than the competition, that strikes me as a feature worth talking about.
Repair is the New Frontier
How do you get more time? To put it simply: Repair. A good product announcement in 2022 should be foregrounding repairability. Because I’ll let you in on a secret. Repair is actually a super power. The fountain of youth and time travel combined. Repair can turn a 3-year phone battery into a 6-year phone battery with a single fix. Fixing is a form of immortality.
Quiet your inner legal department for a moment—or better yet, show them iFixit.com, where we’ve had a decade and millions of successful fixes and haven’t been sued out of existence yet—and let me tell you about repair. I sense the doubt. Who even repairs their phone? Well, who does their own oil changes? Not everyone, sure, but everyone has options. You can spend the time with your kid in the driveway bonding, or you can drop your commuter vehicle at the local Jiffy Lube, or even the dealership.
The fact that you have options, and the reputation of those options, informs purchasing decisions. Everyone knows that BMWs are expensive to maintain, and everyone knows Hondas are reliable and can be fixed in essentially any shop. In appliances, Energy Star has been helping consumers make informed decisions about electricity consumption for decades, and saved a lot of people a lot of money. Now, France is doing the same for repair (and Belgium may follow next year).
Quick little aside here. When Apple talks about movies being made on iPhone, and climbers scaling peaks with Apple Watch, it’s impressive, but it’s a little disingenuous. Apple isn’t spending millions to sell to the 4,000 people who have ever summited Mount Everest, or the thousand people a year who visit the North Pole. They’re selling to the aspirational adventurers. So when I tell you that people want to repair, and you doubt it, I want you to think of the people who want to make movies, and the people who want to run ultramarathons. Repair is an aspiration like any other. It also happens to be an aspiration you can sell to—Apple may not sell climbing gear, but they can certainly sell batteries.
But enough about the theoretical consumer. Let’s talk about real-world regulation.
The slow simmer of the Right to Repair movement has boiled over. With France requiring product repairability scores, and states like New York and Colorado actively protecting the right to fix electronics, the era of Repair is nigh.
Tech giants like Apple have launched their own repair networks, we’ve partnered with Samsung and Google to distribute genuine parts, and Microsoft has pledged action as well. The momentum is there—product announcements should be harping on this phenomenal news. It’s possible Google will release their next Pixels with some repair fanfare, but it seems that the one new feature these phones have, is going under-hyped. That feature is of course, the gift of time—a longer life thanks to smart design and parts availability.
Greenwashing is Over—Plan for the Future
Climate change is here. Talking about recycling isn’t new or virtuous. Environmental action is just the air we breathe now. It’s good for business, but it makes for bland announcements. Tech needs to reach further than paper packaging and carbon offsets.
Let me walk you through an updated “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” scheme every tech company should adopt for their product announcements.
Reduce is obviously not going to be very popular in the marketing department, but like we said, five-year phones mean quality phones, and people can always upgrade before the full 5 years are up—it just means they’ll also have a fantastic two-year-old phone available for use, too. But let’s strike that one for now and focus on “Reuse.” When you make that five-year phone and people upgrade, you can sell that same five-year phone twice, or even three times with a little refurbishment. A huge benefit to Apple’s relatively-repairable iPhones is that they make refurbishment not only possible, but profitable. Brag about buyback schemes and talk about how much energy you’re saving. Offer refurbished devices to nonprofits and schools at a discount. Everyone wins.
Recycling is a popular concept—it’s familiar and easy to understand, but it’s also grown into a monster that’s much less green than one would hope. Recycling is lossy, logistically-complex, and time consuming. It should be the very last block in a long flowchart of alternatives. The missing R for product releases is Repair.
Repair is the gift that keeps giving. Repair makes reuse possible. It postpones wasteful recycling while making it massively easier, it creates jobs, it improves product perception, and it puts manufacturers ahead of Right to Repair regulations. There are infinite metrics to brag about here. “Our parts network is supporting X million independent repair jobs. Our new design allows for a stunning Y% increase in product lifespan, reducing manufacturing impact by almost Z billion tons of CO2. And end-of-life recycling can now reclaim N% more material in less time than ever before.”
Have you ever heard that in a product announcement? I know I’d sit up and pay attention to that.
The long and the short of it is this: tech announcements have become a spreadsheet recitation of meaningless tech specs. If a product release can make these specs relatable in terms of actual use, increased product lifespan, and truly green moves like repair support, it stands the chance of actually making waves, and news. It’s a new decade, let’s move on from the past and look to the future—make those black obelisks into green beacons of change. Last one there’s a rotten egg!