The European Parliament passed sweeping legislation last week intended to make recycling batteries easier. The new rules will require Apple to redesign iPhone and iPad so their batteries can be replaced by users. (Android devices will face the same mandate.)
This will be the second major hardware change to Apple products to result from EU legislation. iPhones soon will come with a USB-C port in place of Lightning because of a European requirement.
iPhone batteries will have to be ‘readily removable and replaceable’
The battery in current iPhones and iPads can be replaced, but special tools and skills are required. Making a mistake can result in significant damage to the device. It’s not something an average user can do with tools found around the house.
Since the battery is one of the first components to wear out in a smartphone or tablet, replacing one can add years of useful life. However, many devices end up in the trash when their useful lifespan is over, with their original batteries still installed.
Newly passed EU legislation requires “designing portable batteries in appliances in such a way that consumers can themselves easily remove and replace them.”
To be clear, the wording of the law doesn’t seem to require swappable batteries. So don’t expect to pop a depleted battery out of an iPhone and slip in a fully charged one between meetings. Instead, when a device’s battery health gets low, it’ll be easy to replace the worn-out one with a fresh battery.
Apple already started moving in this direction … somewhat
For many years, Apple built a reputation for making hard-to-repair handsets. Apple’s designers made the devices as slim as possible, with an absolute minimum number of visible screws — even if that required gluing components together. But the company recently started changing course.
After disassembling the iPhone 14, iFixit said, “Apple has gone back to the drawing board and reworked the iPhone’s internals to make repair easier.”
Both the front and back panels open, providing easier access to the touchscreen’s internal connectors and the battery. And Apple used less glue and more screws in the design.
Cupertino also created the Self Service Repair program to provide customers with the parts and tools they need to repair their own handsets.
Whether these moves will meet the requirements of the European Union’s new legislation remains unknown. Apple recommends its repair program for “anyone with experience repairing electronic devices accessories,” not average users. That might meet the EU criteria for being easily accomplished by an end user, but it might not.
EU legislation’s last steps
The new law has yet to finish the approval process. The European Parliament passed it on June 14. Next, the European Council must formally endorse it. However, that’s not expected to be a problem. The council and parliament already agreed on the law before the parliament’s vote.
While the rule will only affect handsets and tablets sold in the European Union, it’s unlikely Apple and other device-makers will design products especially for sale in Europe. So iPhone users around the world probably will benefit from the new replaceable battery requirement.