Form over function: When will smartphone warranties catch up to design?

Chase Bonar
 from  Winter Springs, FL
| Published: April 2, 2013

Damaging your smartphone is the technological equivalent of getting bad plastic surgery, except one is easier to get corrected. In my experience, smartphone repair shops have taken it upon themselves to make the repair process as expensive and painful as possible, but it's not entirely their fault. In the case of manufacturer defects, all the big players have their own inherently limited policies, most with a warranty window period of around one year for defects only. But recently, there has been an uproar of discontent in China regarding the one year warranty period of all Apple devices which limits replacement parts to 30 days after the time of purchase. The question at stake for Apple in China is whether they are treating Chinese consumers differently than Americans, but there is a much larger question at hand when repairs are concerned.

Where I see this issue as in its infancy, the Chinese have long demanded better practices from Apple, the American company. Though I can't relate to the visage of Apple in China as "arrogant", I do understand why warranty is so important in the context of the iPhone.

The Chinese have demanded Apple extend their warranty policy to include the damaged backside of their iPhone 4 and 4S, to align the policy with their latest iPhone 5. It's no secret that the glass backside of the last generation iPhone was prone to breaking. It's for this reason that Apple CEO Tim Cook issued a formal mea culpa to hinder damage to his company's reputation outside of the U.S. But is the issue fully resolved? Not really.

To put it simply, smartphones are not as durable as they used to be. They're glass. Screens crack. Some die for no reason. I have been very critical of devices and pleaded with manufacturer's to improve durability instead of design. Unfortunately, form over function has gotten the smartphone market to the point of no turning back. Consumers now associate smartphones as an extension of their person, similar to how an individual with plastic surgery sees themself. It's for this reason that repair prices of smartphones are shooting through the roof.

I am inclined to believe that any manufacturer, not just Apple, is at the point where warranty policies need to be refined to align with the design of their devices. Where corporate responsibility demands businesses to uphold the highest level of best practice to benefit the consumer and their industry, corporations also have a duty to address smartphone damages and defects to the acceptance of the consumer. When a smartphone is designed without disassembly in mind, the consumer is trapped between expensive repair costs and limited warranties.

The argument against increased manufacturer responsibility would say there are optional warranty extensions and insurance policies which could reduce the out of pocket fees associate with repairs. You can purchase insurance policies through carriers, third party companies like Asurion, and even retail stores like Best Buy, but each has inherent limitations in the form of deductibles, and monthly fees. These costs to the consumer add up and beckon the question "Why fix it when I can just buy a new smartphone?"

With that said, many local chains like uBreakiFix have found an industry in exploiting the extreme difficulty in repairing smartphones. Consumers outside the manufacturer's Limited Warranty period, and without insurance, now have another hurdle to jump through with repair costs. Pair exceedingly high deductibles with monthly fees for insurance and I'm beginning to wonder how design has evaded the corporate responsibility of manufacturers.

On top of this, the limitations in manufacturer warranties are written in a way to benefit the supplier, which is understandable, but they need to be revised. I understand there is a limitation between what the manufacturer deems their responsibility to repair, and my expectations as the buyer of a product. My issue lies in communicating the warranties each manufacturer offers. I also believe the workmanship and the design of smartphones is at a tipping point and inherently favors smartphone replacements instead of repairs.

There will always be the argument for putting on a durable case to keep your smartphone safeguarded in the face of adversity. But it has become more of a requirement to prevent further repair/replacement costs down the road than I am comfortable with. I enjoy a smartphone without a case, but lately it has been at the inherent detriment of irreparable damage to devices.

On one hand, consumers want the best design and quality which is understandable. The problem is that it generally impacts the repair process of the device. Gadget tear-down company iFixit recently scored the HTC One a dismal 1 out of 10 citing that its nearly impossible to reassemble without breaking the backside of the device. In turn, you can expect HTC and repair shops alike to either down play product issues, or turn consumers off by astronomical repair prices. In essence, smartphone design is spawning a lose-lose scenario in the face of repairs for the consumer.

However, I'm interested to hear your thoughts in the matter, Dear Reader. Does the repairability of a device deter you from a purchase? Are you comfortable with knowing your smartphone is nearly impossible to repair in the case that damage occurs? Do you have insurance, or an extended warranty on your device?

Images via iFixit.