The $1b business of repairing iPhones, plus DIY fixes

A phone works for much longer than the 18 months its typically used for. Rehab shops have built a $1 billion business repairing iPhones for customers looking for a cheaper alternative to upgrading.

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Nearly 390 million iPhones sales later, it looks like fatigue may be setting in. Apple sold 18.2 million iPhones last quarter, down 17 percent from the previous three-month period. With less and less difference between a new smartphone and one from a couple of years ago, people feel less need to upgrade. Businessweek reports.

“If you can get a phone fixed for $100 or less, it’s a heck of a lot better than buying a new one,” says smartphone doctor Justin Wetherill, who runs a 47-outlet chain called uBreakiFix.

He and others like him -- such as iFixit, which sells tools and components to repair shops, and Shatter Buggy, which franchises in five states -- have built a $1 billion business in repairing and refurbishing phones for customers looking for a less expensive alternative to upgrading.

But Apple has been pushing back against the 2,200 rehab shops in the U.S., saying its tough approach ensures quality:

The company voids product warranties if iPhones are fixed outside its retail stores or authorized third-party outlets. It doesn’t sell parts or tools for repairs, requiring uBreakiFix and others to pull components out of old devices or strike independent deals with Chinese manufacturers that supply the iPhone maker. On Aug. 30 the company began a trade-in program for iPhones, accepting older devices in exchange for credit toward a new smartphone.

And that’s in addition to phone company trade-in and upgrade programs, along with various sites offering cash for used electronics.

Still, many of us want to keep using our existing phones. Not to mention, keeping a phone for longer than the 18 months its typically used for reduces mining for minerals used to make components, energy spent to manufacture and ship devices, and waste entering landfills.

So, here are some common problems with folk remedies you may have already heard about, gathered by Businessweek:

  • Wet phone. If it’s not too wet, try putting it into a sealed plastic bag full of rice (which absorbs liquid) and let it sit for two days. Little bags of silica gel also work. Briefly using a hair dryer on the lowest heat could help with some minor water damage.
  • Battery runs out. Batteries work better if kept cooler, so keeping it further from your body can help -- pockets, bags, belt clips. Turn off things like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, push email, and various apps you’re not using, or put it in airplane mode.
  • Headphones, home button not working. If lint, dust, and other stuff get in, a small amount of alcohol can sometimes unstick the buttons and headphone jacks (keep alcohol away from the screen!). Also, the "assistive touch" feature lets you use the touchscreen to do things that normally require the home or volume buttons.
  • Cracked screen. A screen protector or clear tape works, though the phone will be less responsive. If you’re super handy, you can buy little kits with suction cups, tiny screwdrivers, and other tools to help you pry open the phone.

[Bloomberg Businessweek]

Image: Thorsten Hartmann via Flickr

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