A few years back when life was easier and we could quickly reset phones stuck in a boot loop or facing battery issues by just popping the battery out and putting it back in. As time passed and smartphones packed themselves for the purpose of water resistance claims means phones are glued shut from the factory. After successfully passing laws to mandate USB-C for charging smartphones, lawmakers in the European Union now want smartphone batteries to be removable and replaceable again in the interest of sustainability and reparability.
The EU is on a roll – first, it will force smartphones makers to open their devices to third-party app stores from January 2024, then it will make USB-C mandatory for portable electronics starting at the end of 2024, now it has reached a provisional agreement that will require that portable devices have user-replaceable batteries. The body has given companies 3.5 years to redesign the production and supply of batteries. On Friday, the European Parliament and Council reached an agreement with the EU on the new rules, so this is already in motion.
The European Union agreement covers batteries of almost all sizes – from portable batteries, Starting, Lighting, and Ignition batteries for vehicles (SLI batteries), Light Means of Transport batteries, Electric Vehicle (EV) batteries, and even industrial batteries.
User-replaceable batteries used to be the norm on smartphones, but these days they are vanishingly rare. For the common bar form factor that should be a relatively easy adaptation – even dust and water resistance are possible as evidenced by Samsung’s recent Xcover phones and similar devices.
The push for user-replaceable or user-serviceable batteries may sound like a step backward, but it would translate into better reparability for electronic gadgets, at least in the EU. A removable battery would also help users extend the life of their phones without incurring expensive battery-related repairs — most LiPo and Li-ion batteries are irreparable at the service center level, anyway.
To promote sustainable production of batteries in the years to come, the EU states that at least 16% of the cobalt, 85% of the lead, 6% of the lithium, and 6% of the contained nickel should come from recycled sources. Lawmakers have stipulated used product collection targets for companies to ensure they don’t run out of materials to recycle. Recycling and product collection shouldn’t cost the end-users an additional dime, regardless of the battery waste they offer.
Understandably, such sweeping changes cannot happen overnight, even in the jet-set tech space. However, the changes may need companies to rethink battery sourcing, ties with recyclers, and long-term supply chain strategies so consumers aren’t affected.
Today, smartphone batteries are not serviceable and not replaceable at least by a user. If your battery starts to show signs of aging (quick discharge, slow charging, swelling) or is simply dead, your only option is to take your entire smartphone to your nearest service center and submit your device for repairs.
All this is too much for many consumers who simply choose to buy a new smartphone. This is especially true for entry-level smartphones, where the cost of repairs if a phone is no longer in its warranty period, is often high enough to discourage customers from fixing the phone.
Even after phone brands begin swapping sealed batteries for replaceable ones, it remains unclear if these changes will come to India. Unlike the decision of USB Type-C ports coming to the iPhone, the battery issue may not affect a lot of smartphones on the Android side which have a common production process for Europe and other regions. Brands like Xiaomi, for instance, are known to manufacture separate models of phones for various regions and could leave product lineups in the Asian market unaffected by this change.