Ken Pillonel may be known as the guy who built the world’s first iPhone with a USB-C port. In the future, he will probably be known as the person who made the Apple AirPods repairable.
Here’s how he made it possible.
After its USB-C iPhone went viral on the internet, Pillonel focused on building the opposite, an Android phone with a Lightning port. A few weeks ago, he also released a preview of his next engineering project, AirPods with a USB-C port.
While we might have started to think that the engineer had become a little predictable in his projects, Pillonel launched the real big challenge of making the AirPods repairable.
The AirPods tragedy
First announced in 2016, Apple’s AirPods have quickly become the company’s most popular accessory, with estimates of 90 million pairs sold in 2021. Users of the device can swear by the quality of its sound and its ability to respond to the slightest tap and pinch. . Yet Apple’s runaway success is also a tragedy for the environment.
The company that prides itself on not shipping power supplies with the latest iterations of its phone for environmental reasons has also designed AirPods to be unusable. The sleek case of the AirPods does not allow access to hardware components without splitting the lid of the device.
The difficulties endured while repairing the case of the device are so numerous that repair specialists, iFixit, rate both models of AirPods at 0 out of a possible 10, the lowest score a device can ever achieve. . In other words, the device is simply beyond repair.
In a 2019 article, Vice reported that a brand new AirPod could turn into electronic waste in as little as 18 months when the device’s batteries die. With no way to replace them, AirPods end up in a landfill or become a source of risk for someone trying to recycle them.
Interesting engineering has reached out to Apple to understand how they treat AirPods that fall under their replacement policy and will update this content when feedback is received.
How AirPods can be maintained
Pillonel made several attempts to carefully open the AirPods case, as seen in the video above; all came to the same result. Instead, he turned to 3D printing to create an AirPods case you could use to replace the original one when it falls apart.
In an email to Interesting engineering, Pillonel said: “Aassuming the parts I designed are mass produced by someone, I believe that the cost of installing parts is very low. The replacement shell uses less than $1 worth of plastic and installation time is approximately 5-10 minutes.“
Once you open the case, the lithium batteries can be replaced with those purchased online. Unfortunately, this is the only part that can be easily replaced. If something else on the device is broken, Pillonel says it can only be replaced using a part from another device.
Pillonel has open-sourced the design so anyone can make these cases using a simple 3D printer, opening up AirPods to service options as well. The engineer knows that a technical audience can enjoy his videos. For the uninformed public looking to breathe new life into their AirPods, Pillonel says: “If a non-tech savvy person can get their hands on what I’ve designed, then they just need a knife and a screwdriver to give their device a second life. This could be a fun weekend project and if the device is already broken, what worse can happen? Break it even more? You can’t learn if you don’t try!“
Perhaps that’s the advice Apple should also heed as it prepares to follow the European Union’s directive to equip all devices with USB-C ports.