It is an unfortunate truth that most modern gadgets — and the companies that make them — are hostile to consumer repairs. Not only are gadgets designed in a way that practically forces people to buy a replacement for even simple repairs, but companies often actively make changes to inhibit repair by consumers and third-party repair services.
Valve has taken a refreshingly different approach with its upcoming Steam Deck — before the Nintendo Switch-like console has even launched. The company released a teardown video that shows how to take the unit apart and gives you a good look at its internals, as well as clearly spelling out all the potential pitfalls of such an operation. It’s a breath of fresh air for those of us who believe in the right to repair.
Some might argue that Valve’s language during the video — “you really shouldn’t do this” — and the design of the unit itself is counter to the right to repair. The company says “even though it’s your PC… and you have every right to open it up and do what you want, we at Valve really don’t recommend that you ever open it up.”
In particular, the company notes that opening up the device will immediately reduce its drop resistanceand that many components are carefully chosen for the small form factor. The particular SSD used, for instance, was chosen for its low power consumption and to minimize interference with the Steam Deck’s wireless module. Meanwhile, the thumbstick is made up of a custom configuration of components.
But the fact that this video even exists, let alone at such an early stage, is nearly unheard of among mainstream tech companies. It’s especially rare for a tightly integrated compact product such as the Steam Deck (as opposed to, say, a desktop computer or a bike). Yet despite all the warnings, Valve still goes through and shows you how to replace the SSDs and thumbsticks, arguably two of the most common components one might want to replace on a device like this.
Valve even says to “stay tuned” for an update where it tells you where you can get some of the replacement components. I feel like I’m living in an alternate universe where companies actually care about their consumers a little bit, and not just their money.
As far as I’m concerned, the battle for the right to repair isn’t just about making it as easy as possible for users to fix a system (although that’s certainly appreciated). Sometimes, making a compact tech product does require some compromises to repairability. I get that.
But it usually doesn’t require being actively hostile to the user. Simply acknowledging that the user has the right to try to repair a product they bought — even if they stand the chance of damaging it in the process — goes a long way. I can only hope more companies take a leaf out of Valve’s book, but I won’t hold my breath.