Once upon a time, if something broke, you could fix it yourself. Most gadgets were easy to take apart, and a trip to the local Radio Shack or computer specialty store was all you needed to get your computer or television back into tip-top shape. But, as the years have gone by, it's become harder and harder to get into the gizmos you own, and repairing them now requires you to purchase special parts and tools from overseas. Even then, only a few parts can be swapped out, and of course you void your warranty.
Cell phones, tablets, and laptops—the items most likely to become damaged because they are carried everywhere—are the biggest offenders. It makes sense that you'd need a special tool or kit to replace a cracked screen, but why should I have to send away my laptop in order to upgrade the hard drive? Why should I have to be without my phone or tablet for a week while the battery is replaced because it will no longer hold a charge? Not all devices are like this, but the latest and greatest phones, laptops, and tablets of the last year (like the latest MacBook Air) have been composed largely of unopenable hunks of plastic and metal.
It would be nice to put all the blame squarely on the manufacturers, but in truth we have no one to blame but ourselves. Manufacturers just made more of what the masses were buying, and got rid of whatever people weren't interested in. Consumers wanted slimmer profiles, longer battery life, and great-looking displays, and they didn't care what they lost in the process.
When Apple killed the white MacBook in favor of its new MacBook Air line, it also inadvertently took a stance on repairability. Right now the only Apple laptops on which you can perform meaningful service are the non-Retina MacBook Pros. Judging from the popularity of the Retina display MacBook Pro, it would be safe to assume that Apple will eventually do away with the regular MacBook Pros in favor of more sleek systems with Retina displays.
Apple isn't the only one moving in this direction: Several other companies are locking down their gadgets to try to cram as many features in them as possible. Most of Motorola's new high-end phones, like the Droid Razr MAXX, feature a non-removable battery. Even PC manufacturers are starting to lock down their systems, making them harder to open and upgrade. In 2011 we saw a surge in the number of all-in-one desktops that hit the market as PC makers began to phase out the typical tower. As one PCWorld article so nicely put it, "The tower desktop is finished." Soon, the vast majority of PCs for consumers will be difficult to open, hard to fix, and nearly impossible to upgrade.
But what of the tinkerers, and the enthusiasts? Are we doomed to this future of planned obsolescence? Sadly, it seems that we are. As the mainstream appeal of high-tech devices expands, our time is over. Tech companies will continue to produce products that appeal to the average person, rather than the screwdriver-wielding tinkerer. The average person cares less about specs than form and function, and so now we are on a path where things will look good but are totally disposable. There will still be a niche market for those people that need or want to upgrade their machines regularly (see: hardcore PC gamers), but if you're holding out for something that lets you get elbows deep into its guts, you're going to be waiting for a long time.
We've been pushed out to the fringes of the tech world and have created our own communities centered around the notion of doing things yourself. Kickstarter, in particular, has provided a place where many DIY enthusiasts can purchase and fund projects that fit their mantra.
The time when you could pull out your trusty screwdriver and replace a cracked screen yourself is over and we must now face the era of locked-down tech.
This article was originally published at TechHive here