Nirav Patel has spent his life looking at the guts of consumer electronics. As a child he used to tinker with the computers he found at home, a place where the broken was not replaced: it was fixed. “In that ecosystem the hardware was still very open and you could fiddle with almost everything,” he recalls. Then he came to Apple and from there he went to the founding team of Oculus, and found the world turned upside down. “Over the course of a few decades, devices have become completely closed and inaccessible to the end user,” he laments.
The result of this is a civilization used to the latest technologies becoming obsolete after a sad year. A market where it is reasonable that jeans last much longer than a computer. “It is insane that such expensive and advanced products are so disposable; that we spend 2,000 dollars on a computer and that the deterioration of a small part, such as a battery or a key, leaves them useless because of how expensive it is to repair them ”, he says. The paradox was the breeding ground for Framework, the company that Patel intends to give us back access to the guts of our devices and hopefully get the industry out of the model it’s stuck in.
Eighteen months after the project’s launch, the company was ready to launch its first product: a configurable, repairable laptop whose first units are reaching consumers in the United States and Canada. “We are building the infrastructure to reach Europe. Our goal is to open orders in some countries before the end of the year and continue to expand in 2022 ″. Their promise is that we do not need to be an engineer or have prior knowledge to improve or replace any part of the machine. “In fact, it is very easy,” he says. A screwdriver is enough.
Question. How did you decide to take the plunge?
It was clear that the problem was not going to solve itself and that the only way to fix it was to demonstrate that it is possible to build a company that follows a different model that is more friendly to the consumer and the environment. And he knew he had the skills and connections to do it.
Answer. On paper, how long would a Framework laptop have to last?
Our goal is for them to last at least twice as long as consumers could get by buying another computer with similar features. But the crucial thing is that the teams are not only going to be functional during that period of time, they are also going to be enjoyable. It is not a product that begins to degrade after working perfectly for two years, and that the user has to suffer for another couple of years. If something starts to malfunction, be it a dead battery, a cracked screen, or insufficient storage space, it can be fixed with a simple module change. In addition, if a user needs a different port, they can achieve it without the need for external adapters, just change the expansion cards. The machine is designed to be very easy to open and everything is labeled with QR codes where the user finds step by step instructions.
P. On the outside, your computers look like any commercial model, but what happens on the inside is very different. How difficult has it been to reinvent that structure?
R. It is not a total reinvention. We have been able to draw on a lot of knowledge in design and architecture. Rather, it is a review of priorities: for us the important thing was to ensure that we had a very thin and high-performance laptop, but within the limits of making it fully accessible to someone who has never seen a computer inside.
P. Let’s say my keyboard breaks. How much time and money would it cost to repair it?
R. For this piece we have two ways. One is to replace the entire top — $ 99 — which would cost a couple of minutes or less. Another option is to just replace the keyboard – $ 39 – which is somewhat more complicated, and can take half an hour. The user can choose, buy the replacement on our website and have it at home in a couple of days. It is more efficient for the consumer and for us: they do not have to send us the computer and wait for the repair center to review it and there is no need to worry about the security of the information.
P. What if something more lethal happens? If a spilled coffee damages different components? Is the repair no longer profitable?
R. If the damage is too much, it may make more sense to buy a new one. But even in that situation it would be possible to save by taking advantage of some components. For example, memory and storage expansion cards would probably be intact.
P. Regarding the price, how is the comparison with other equipment on the market?
R. We have tried to keep prices close to what the user would find buying a similar computer. The cheapest preconfigured laptop is $ 999 and the most expensive is $ 2,000. Besides, if a user, for example, does not want Windows, he can configure a cheaper version in the “do it yourself” version.
P. In the scenario you describe, buyers are still depending on you for parts. Does this kind of monopoly enter your plans?
R. No. We are trying to build an ecosystem that goes beyond the Framework. We have already published the expansion card designs open-air and have some community developments and small businesses starting to develop their own. That’s great, because consumers don’t have to depend on us. And we want it to happen with other components as well.
P. Are you worried that these manufacturers will end up kicking you out of the market?
R. Not especially. For us, the goal is to grow that ecosystem and for our store to serve, over time, as a market for these third-party manufacturers and sellers.
P. Will we see and repair the guts of more devices?
R. Yes. The laptop is just the beginning because it was the most obvious and possibly the category that most needed the model we have. But we think this applies to any category of consumer electronics. We all have a drawer full of broken devices that we can’t do anything with.
P. Imagine Apple or Samsung following a similar model?
R. We would like. But I’m not counting on it. Their models are too focused on that replacement cycle.
P. The Framework model would kill them. What can kill Framework?
R. The biggest challenge for us is the problem everyone is facing: silicon shortages and supply chain problems. For now we have been able to overcome it, but nobody knows exactly what will happen next year and it does not seem that this crisis will go away. For now we are selling laptops faster than we make them.
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