Right to Repair: Do Not Forget Firmware

Early July 2021, US president Joe Biden signed an executive order strengthening the right to repair in America. It is all the rage in the YouTuber space. Over here in Europe, the European Parliament is also working on encouraging reuse and repair to save on resources (Ecodesign Requirements, Grant EU Consumers Right to Repair, Europe Reduce Waste by Guaranteeing Right to Repair). However, I do not think the movement is as strong as in the US, based on my perception of the media coverage. I had to actively search for information rather than having it thrown at me by media outlets, old-school and modern alike.

Disclaimer: This might just be my way of looking for and consuming information. I strongly prefer non-German modern tech media (read YouTube creators) because I am yet to find one that produces at the same level of production quality as someone like Linus Media Group, as one example. I watch German news, though, so I am not entirely ignoring my own country 😉

Now, the topic of this post is not where I get my information or how far the current state of legislation has come everywhere in the world.

I know that "Right to Repair" goes way beyond smartphones and computers. My focus is on consumer technology because that is where my interests are.

I want to talk about the software that runs on the hardware since it is just as important to a product’s lifetime. Washing machines and similar household appliances are becoming "smarter and smarter" with every new generation, so it is no longer just phones and tablets. Together with mobile computers, the latter two categories are likely what everybody interested in tech immediately thinks about when hearing "Right to Repair".

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Apple, Stop Parenting Me – Rant About iOS 14 Auto-Volume Reduction

Apple is a company that tends to believe it knows best what its customers want. Sometimes a company – not specific to Apple – does actually know better than the customer. Apple has been very active in the past years to push customer health and provide hardware, the Apple Watch, and software, the Health app, to facilitate this push in the form of products they can sell. I do not own an Apple Watch, but I genuinely view it as a good thing.

Now, with iOS 14, Apple has gone a bit too far with regards to health monitoring. It now enforces rules I, the customer and user of a device, cannot override. I am talking about the automatic volume reduction when iOS thinks I have been listening to loud audio for too long.

This is not okay!
This is not a situation where a company knows better.

It is actively limiting its product’s usefulness to me, the customer who paid a lot of money for it. I understand the motivation, but I cannot condone the action taken. Apple cannot even know why I turn up the volume to levels it deems inappropriate for a more extended period.

Here are a few examples, some of which already happened to me.

  1. Bluetooth-pairing the phone with my car’s audio system.

    I usually crank the phone’s volume to max to roughly match the other audio sources, like music on a USB stick (yes, I am a cave-man that has music on a stick).

  2. Listening to podcasts while going for a walk or run next to a busy road.

    Imagine my surprise when the voices speaking to me seemed to have disappeared because iOS lowered the volume to a point where the audio was drowned by traffic noise. I thought my phone had died – which has happened often enough thanks to an iOS bug that incorrectly reported battery percentage and dropped from 30% to turning off within 15-20 minutes.

  3. Listening with studio headphones that have a high input resistance (in ohm).

    I recently bought a new pair of headphones, and the quickest way to compare them with my old ones was to plug them into my phone. 80 Ω is not a lot, but enough to have to crank up the volume a bit higher to get a decent fun level. In the end, it is still much quieter compared to my PC soundcard that supports up to 600 Ω headphones.

No. 1 has not yet happened, but I assume it might once the world is rid of the COVID-19 pandemic, and I can/must travel to work a couple of times per month. On longer car rides, I usually listen to podcasts, and as mentioned, I turn up the volume on my phone in those cases. The other two issues have already managed to annoy me, and No. 3 prompted me to write this little rant – although that is the least likely of the three examples to occur regularly. Most of the time, it will be No. 2 when I am out walking or going for a run. The traffic noise is much worse than people talking to me. I am not even listening to music, which is also worse than people talking to me. I prefer Apple to turn down the car noise on the roads instead of my headphones. Until they can do that, stop messing with my volume, please.

(Is this a ploy to get me to buy horribly expensive AirPods Pro with
noise cancellation?)

I can agree that a notification is a good start to educate users. But please do not take any automatic action. At least make it configurable. I am an adult, and I should be able to decide for myself. On top of that, there are legitimate use-cases where a higher "theoretical" volume is required.

Of Affordable Phones, Software Updates and Yearly Upgrades

With the release of the Google Pixel 3a I once again started thinking about what I want in a smartphone. As a reminder, the last time I was pondering the purchase of one I was musing of tall phones, curved displays and notches. I am not in the market for a new phone right now as my iPhone 8 is more than capable of fulfilling my needs. But, with the recent launch of the Pixel 3a I wished that this device had already existed a year ago because it is basically the perfect phone for me. And I also wish Google would get back into the market of less expensive phones with the latest and greatest hardware as was the case with the Nexus line.

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Apple WWDC 2018 Announcements – A few thoughts

As I do every year, I watched the Apple WWDC 2018 keynote, for personal entertainment purposes as well as a genuine interest in what Apple is doing. The same is also true for both Google’s and Microsoft’s developer conferences. This is not a comprehensive summary as done by other Apple news sites and blogs, but rather  a few thoughts on what I’ve seen and how it may or may not affect me.

iOS Update Strategy

Every year, and with good reason, Apple mocks Google’s Android platform for lagging behind in the software update department. This year was no different, as was to be expected, but in addition to that they emphasized the support of devices dating back to 2013. Five-year-old iPhones and iPads! Take that Android.Read More »

Of tall phones, curved displays and notches

This is a rant about modern smartphone design. I’ve had a few ideas in my head for some time, since MWC 2018 in fact, but never bothered to write them down as it was only focused on this notch thing that keeps on spreading. However, recently my sister’s phone died – thanks for the boot loop issues LG (it was my Nexus 5X that I passed on to her) – and so I helped her searching for a suitable replacement.

Although there are plenty smartphone makers out there, our go-to list wasn’t very long. For one, we had ruled out LG from the start. It seems that the Nexus 5X wasn’t the only one with recurring hardware defects. The next ones that didn’t make it to the list were basically all Chinese manufacturers like Huawei, Honor, ZTE or Xiaomi. I understand that they make very good handsets, especially Huawei has upped their game, but I do have my doubts regarding software updates. The last time I had read about the Android update situation sometime last year, these companies didn’t have the best track record (I don’t have the link to the website anymore, sorry). In fact, just throwing it out there, some Android phone manufacturers even lie about the patch level of their firmware.

<Insert your preferred curse>

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Switching From iOS to Windows Phone (Pt. 1)

As I have already mentioned in a previous post (8th paragraph), the Windows Phone platform had me hooked since day one. There was something to it that made it more interesting than iOS or Android. However, at that time the competition had been more mature – not only the OS but also the devices – and therefore I chose a Samsung (from now on called Copyshop) Galaxy S2 as my first smartphone. Android seemed the best fit back then (around 3 years ago), simply because of all the possibilities this platform offered on a technical level (I’m a programmer, that’s how I think). As it turned out, I basically used none of those things I found so interesting (like widgets) but rather tried to get a vanilla Android experience without the Copyshop bloatware – not to mention regular software updates.

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