How the “electric adhesive” that will (probably) arrive on the iPhone 16 works

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A swollen iPhone battery lying on a table

An iPhone battery that badly needs to be changed

© Aleksandr Rybalko / Shutterstock

Often criticized because of the very relative repairability of its devicesApple seems to be about to change things. Recent rumors indeed mention the arrival ofan easier battery to replace on the iPhone 16. Goodbye glue, the battery of the next iPhone would be held in place by electrically decoupling adhesive.

Behind this somewhat barbaric term are in fact simply strips of scotch tape that can “lose” their adhesion when subjected to an electric current. Thus, rather than laboriously peeling off the adhesive strips behind the battery, it would be enough to apply an electric current to the scotch tape itself to free the component from the chassis.

Real progress?

While it has never been used in a consumer smartphone before, the technology has actually been around for some time. A study published in 2023 in the journal Materials Today Communication already claimed to be doing a review “exhaustive” of how this type of adhesive works. More recently, the giant Tesa congratulated itself, last February, progress made in the field. As iFixit CEO noted on X, a short video showing this technology in action on a part that looks awfully like a phone chassis has even been posted.

Here we can see the adhesive resisting a tensile force of 80 newtons, more than enough to ensure good adhesion of the battery. 12 volts, 60 seconds and 2 crocodile clips later the adhesive peels off without difficulty to allow the part to be changed. Beyond the material-technical feat, however, a question arises: is this solution really smarter than using good old double-sided tape?

What will the EU say?

Many phones today come with adhesive strips that can be removed using a tab provided for this purpose. With a little elbow grease and potentially three drops of nail polish remover, removing the battery from its housing on any phone is not the challenge you might think. Of course, you first have to access the battery (and therefore most often, remove the screen first), but the electrically decoupling adhesive does nothing to solve this problem.

There is no doubt that for well-equipped stores, this solution has its advantages. No need to struggle with adhesive strips that are likely to tear, to conscientiously apply solvent and to delicately pry so as not to damage the battery. In a minute, the job is done and the component can be changed. But for an individual, unless you have an electric generator at home, this does not really simplify the operation, the solvent remaining a much more accessible product.

The adhesive strips present on current iPhones

The adhesive strips found on today's iPhones

© Credit: iFixit – CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

In this sense, it is not certain that the electrical adhesive that risks ending up in the iPhone 16 will change anything with regard to ecodesign requirements dictated by the European Union. According to this directive, a battery must be removable “without tools, with a tool or tool set that is supplied with the product or spare part, or with basic tools“Since sending an electric generator with each spare battery is not really an option, the solvent is probably not ready to retire.

Other small concerns, the same directive clearly specifies that “the replacement process can be accomplished by a layman“. Operating a generator and the accompanying pliers near a pile of circuit boards and connectors does not seem to exactly meet this definition. In any case, it seems even further from it than our current situation, which is already not ideal.

Limited impact

There is no doubt that the use of this technology will simplify the lives of Apple Stores and other phone repair shops, which is already a plus. But in the end, it is not certain that this will change much for the end customer who will have to go through a specialized store to carry out such a repair anyway.

It is difficult not to see in this rumor something other than the shadow of a relentless technosolutionism even though Fairphone demonstrates phone after phone that changing a battery can be done in a simple and fun way, without the need for tools or solvents. Sure, the plastic shell of the Fairphone 4 is less elegant than the glass back of the iPhone 16, but perhaps working on this aspect of our relationship with digital devices could have a greater impact than using high-tech tape.

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