Gadget Makers, Embrace the Teardown

Another gadget, another teardown. The latest device to go under the iFixit knife is Apple’s newly updated polycarbonate MacBook.  A cursory glance at its innards seems to back up Apple’s green credentials, from its LED-backlit screen to its smaller, longer-lasting battery. Apple hasn’t given us reason to distrust its claims, but it’s always comforting to get them independently confirmed.

Websites like iFixit are meant to provide a guide for out-of-warranty repairs, take stock of components and satisfy some geeky curiosity — consumer watchdogs, they are not.  Yet DIY sites and the people that run them are also exposing, in the most literal sense, how electronics makers are fashioning their wares and if they live up to their claims, eco and otherwise.

Let’s face it, there’s no bigger microscope than the Internet. This scrutiny is one reason for gadget makers to participate in environmental standards organizations and consortia and embrace transparency, two (out of 10) ways that companies can ride the green consumer electronics wave, as identified by Katie and her fellow panelists at Consumer Electronics Association’s Industry Forum. There’s no stopping someone from taking your gadget apart and posting the findings online, so it’s best to get everything out there in the open and align yourself with groups and programs (EPEAT, Energy Star) that can help boost your product’s environmental profile.

Scrutiny aside, online DIY resources are a treasure trove of insight into the levels of user serviceability that green gadget buyers can expect out of their electronics. Since they’re frequented by people who are likelier to crack open the case and attempt a repair, iFixit’s notes and comments sections are a good way to gauge which parts or subsystems may prove problematic or off-putting for users.

Conversely, if a product isn’t attracting a firestorm of rants and misgivings, it’s a sign that it is generally well built and that the manufacturer is on the right track toward long-lived and reliable goods.  If your product wins over the DIY set, it’s a positive step in combating e-waste and reducing the end-of-life toll on the environment. (Look at that, No. 7 on Katie’s list.)

Keeping a finger on the pulse of the DIY set also offers glimpses at green innovations before they hit the mainstream. Sure, you may have to wade through quirky one-offs and stuff like communal hammocks, but there are some solid projects that show true ingenuity and utility.  The Tweet-a-Watt and the real-time energy monitoring Chumby, both featured in Make, can be considered precursors to information-rich smart meter displays and platforms that will soon make energy consumption data as accessible as sports scores and the weather are today.

Having recently revived a Dell Latitude laptop by spending roughly $30 and an hour hunched over a soldering iron (OK, more like three hours), I can attest to the fact that DIY resources are a boon for green geeks. Mind you, the average consumer won’t go to such lengths, but they are becoming eco-savvier by the minute. When they start showing an interest in extending the useful life of their gear, you can be assured that Google will helpfully point them to sites like the ones I mentioned earlier. Why not start winning them over now?

Question of the week

Does a good teardown or a warm reception from the DIY set improve your feelings toward a gadget?
Relevant analyst in consumer electronics
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