Remember when most phones have removable batteries? I am not certain, but some of you might not be born yet or are not yet old enough to experience phones with removable batteries. But here’s one thing I’m sure of, removable batteries are super convenient! The fact that you can reload your phone battery once one goes bad is just a cool concept then, and in fact, it still is now. Also if you’re someone who uses a camera with a removable battery these days, then you know the joys of it!
Although, like everything, removable batteries have their pros and cons! And today we’re going to talk about what those are and what it means in our modern world and our future since they’re coming back as a standard in a few years! Let’s get to it!
The EU Standard That Will Bring Back Removable Batteries
Last month, July 10, 2023, the Council of the EU adopted a new regulation that tackles sustainability rules for all kinds of batteries, it’ll regulate the entire life cycle of said batteries, and it’ll regulate their production, use, reuse, and recycling! It sounds wonderful, and it does take a very important step towards having a lower or even zero carbon footprint!
The regulation will make sure that producing, using, and recycling these batteries will be safe for people, property, and the environment. Plus it’ll also aim to implement tight restrictions for hazardous substances such as cadmium, lead, and mercury.
This regulation will also introduce information and labeling requirements, which means every battery will be required to state its contents and components through some paperwork that’ll come with the device or battery or through a document online that you can get to by scanning a QR code.
So, do we need this kind of regulation? Actually, yes, we needed a regulation ever since people adopted using battery-powered devices. Yes, there are a ton of regulations and standards already present, but the most implemented ones usually tackle the sizes, capacity, weight, and safety standards that’ll protect people and property. What happens after disposal and before production that affects the environment, aren’t usually tackled.
So with this regulation being implemented in a few years, a ton of attention is focused on the fact that the regulation wants every portable device and appliance to have a removable and replaceable battery. So, could this mean that the removable batteries of the past will return? Or does it mean something else?
But before we answer that, now that the possibility of a removable battery on smartphones is in the air, let’s talk about its benefits and disadvantages!
Benefits of Bringing Back Removable Batteries
When we talk about phones with removable batteries, those who are old enough reminisce about the times when phones virtually had no down time, all you had to do back then when you had a low battery was to replace it, then charge that low battery one while you keep enjoying your phone. Of course, that is only a possibility if you have multiple batteries in stock.
Another benefit is lower repair costs, if you had a bad battery that swells or doesn’t hold a charge anymore, all you had to do is buy a new pack and install it yourself (for free). Not only that but, this will also have a great environmental impact as it would save phones instead of just throwing them away.
Finally, one of the sweetest things that people ever experienced with phones with removable batteries is the ability to upgrade the battery instead of just replacing it. Just imagine swapping your battery out not just for a new one but also with more power and capacity! Plus, you can switch to different types of battery, sure you most likely have a Lithium-Ion or polymer battery right now, but once silicon carbon or other solid-state battery tech hits the market, you can easily swap it out for that!
Disadvantages of Bringing Back Removable Batteries
Like with everything else, removable batteries on phones have disadvantages, and I hate to break it to you, but there are quite a few.
First off, did you know that phones with non-removable batteries are cheaper to manufacture? That’s the main reason why it’s hard to find phones with removable batteries nowadays. Aside from that phones with non-removable batteries also make companies continuous revenue due to repairs.
Thus, due to their added complexity, phones with removable batteries might be more expensive initially, both for the manufacturer (since they have to work extra to design it better) and for the customer.
Now, if companies will bring back the removable back to accommodate the removable batteries, this will mean that phones with premium materials will be much more scarce. Sure you can still design a metal or glass back phone but that’s an added cost and it’ll be much more prone to breaking.
Adding on top of that, waterproofing phones with removable batteries is going to be tricky. It is possible as shown by waterproof action cameras with removable batteries, but it’ll cause the phone to be thicker and bulkier and it won’t be too desirable for companies to create. There’s a workaround that we had when removable batteries were still a thing which is waterproof cases, but then again, those are bulky.
Lastly, while you can replace batteries all the time or upgrade them to better ones, they’ll always have less capacity than those with non-removable batteries. Why? Well if you haven’t seen a removable battery pack before, you’ll notice one thing: they are hard. And they had to be! Batteries especially with our current lithium tech are usually soft and squishy, and considering that they shouldn’t be squished unless you want a fire in your hand, a hard plastic casing has to be implemented with removable batteries, and those add weight and eat up space that could’ve been used for more battery space.
What Will Companies Do?
Now, would this EU regulation change phones as it did with the USB-C regulation? Would companies like Apple (which produces premium phones) be stubborn about it?
If we take a closer look at the regulation, it essentially states that the battery packs should be easily accessible and can be replaced by the consumer. Now, let’s take the iPhone for example, the law didn’t specifically mention that phones would need an easily removable panel which would suck for waterproofing and material choice, and the batteries iPhones are arguably easy to remove and replace, it could simply mean for Apple to have Philips screws instead of the pentalobe screws that they have been using since the iPhone 4.
I’m also sure it’ll mean that the EU regulation will cause Apple to prevent serializing their batteries! Don’t get me wrong, the new batteries under the regulation are required to have documentation and serialization, but Apple would probably not be allowed to limit features on their phones just for swapping the battery for a third-party or even a first-party one, especially when the regulations also come with better standards and testing, which gives Apple fewer reasons to do what they do against repairability.
For other manufacturers, this regulation could simply limit the use of the hard-to-remove glue that they’ve been applying to batteries which not only makes the repair hard but is also dangerous.
Other Android phones also put a ton of components and ribbon wirings on top of their batteries recently, it’s essentially the equivalent of just stuffing your junk under a rug! And yes the EU regulation can mean for companies to simply have a better wiring design.
Overall, it could essentially mean that we can still have the generally closed phones we have today, complete with waterproofing and everything, but is simply easier and safer to repair!
As battery tech progresses forward, it could even mean that we’ll have battery replacements that are just bigger than a standard sim card that we could have tray slots for them. Who knows?
The thing is, we have until 2027 until these regulations are fully implemented, and by that time, we could have more advanced designs or smaller batteries that could fully accommodate the changes caused by the regulations.
What Do Removable Batteries Mean for the Future?
So what could this whole regulation mean for the future of tech? Honestly, I get the hype that’s around removable batteries right now, it does mean a ton of things, especially with the repairability and longevity of gadgets and appliances. But don’t forget, that this applies to any battery-powered device! Not just phones but also tablets, laptops, and any consumer-grade battery-powered device has to be user replaceable.
Of course, industrial-grade devices like backup power supplies, Electric Vehicles, and any other high-voltage battery still has to be handled by a professional, but again, it has to be replaceable!
Again, nothing much has to change on our part, with the world’s pace of technological innovation, I’m sure that something can be done so that we would still have the same benefits we had on our gadgets.
You have to remember that most of the regulation tackles recycling and environmental friendliness, so whatever happens, I’m sure this is a step forward towards a greener future!
If you want to read more about the regulation, here’s the official document!