Framework refines its laptops and adds a cute way to reuse old parts

Framework is one of a few companies leading the charge against disposable electronics, in particular laptops. It just showed off some new models, but also a unique case that you can slot your old parts into to form a new (old) desktop or home media PC.

After reviewing last year’s Framework 13 and finding it a perfectly nice, conscience-soothing alternative to the usual suspects, I did begin to wonder what happens to the old parts when you decide to upgrade. New board? Great, slot it in. And the old one goes… where?

Their clever answer is this collaboration with Cooler Master: a $40 custom case that works with Framework parts, so as you upgrade your laptop, you also assemble a desktop.

Actually it’s small enough that you could tuck it away and use it as a media server or something. Honestly, it’s nice just to have a place to store the parts.

Image Credits: Framework

The new Framework 13 is… not actually a new laptop, exactly, but a new set of parts that you can order all together in the form of a laptop. In a way that’s just a laptop, yes, but you can also buy the pieces individually and slot them into your old Framework 13. For instance, there’s a new matte screen and an improved hinge — you can cop just those if you want. Or the improved speakers, battery or, of course, the mainboard supporting the latest Intel and AMD processors.

Sure, you’re still taking part in the rat race of PC upgrades, but you’re not producing nearly as much waste, and there’s no need to worry about compatibility or anything. Plus all the packaging is recyclable.

Pop the old bits into that sweet little case and you’ll be feeling good. We’ll try to get our hands on this and report back on the process soon.

Framework refines its laptops and adds a cute way to reuse old parts by Devin Coldewey originally published on TechCrunch

Europe tools up for the repairable future

The European Commission has laid out another piece of its Circular Economy Action Plan today — adopting a proposal to set common EU rules which are intended to make it easier for consumers to get faulty products repaired.

The “right to repair” measures are aimed at reducing e-waste by preventing repairable products from being prematurely junked.

A Commission proposal last year set out to expand the bloc’s ecodesign rules. The right to repair rules are designed to build on that. The EU wants the full sweep of policies to promote longer tech product lifespans to boost sustainability and work toward its headline goal of being carbon neutral by 2050. (Aka the European Green Deal.)

Goods for which EU reparability requirements currently exist include household washing machines and washer-dryers, dishwashers, refrigerating appliances, electronic displays, vacuum cleaners, and servers and data storage. But mobile phones, cordless phones and tablets are slated to soon be added to the list — once respective ecodesign reparability requirements are adopted by the bloc’s lawmakers. So the consumer electronics industry is certainly in the frame.

A right to repair for consumer kit including mobiles and tablets was floated by the Commission back in 2020 — when the EU’s executive said electronics and ICT would be a priority for the expansion of the Ecodesign Directive to help tackle the growing scourge of e-waste.

Today’s package of measures propose a supportive framework to wrap around specific reparability requirements and encourage the development of the necessary services.

“Over the last decades, replacement has often been prioritised over repair whenever products become defective and insufficient incentives have been given to consumers to repair their goods when the legal guarantee expires. The proposal will make it easier and more cost-effective for consumers to repair as opposed to replace goods,” the Commission wrote in a press release. “Additionally, more demand will translate into a boost to the repair sector while incentivising producers and sellers to develop more sustainable business models.”

The proposed measures include a new consumer right to repair both for products that are under guarantee and those no longer covered by a legal guarantee.

“Today’s proposal will ensure that more products are repaired within the legal guarantee, and that consumers have easier and cheaper options to repair products that are technically repairable (such as vacuum cleaners, or soon, tablets and smartphones) when the legal guarantee has expired or when the good is not functional anymore as a result of wear and tear,” the Commission suggested.

For covered tech products still under warranty, sellers will be required to offer repair except when it is more expensive than replacement. While, beyond the legal guarantee, the Commission said EU consumers will get a new set of rights and tools to “make ‘repair’ an easy and accessible option”.

Here’s a summary of the main measures in the Commission proposal:

  • A right for consumers to claim repair to producers, for products that are technically repairable under EU law, like a washing machine or a TV. This will ensure that consumers always have someone to turn to when they opt to repair their products, as well as encourage producers to develop more sustainable business models
  • A producers’ obligation to inform consumers about the products that they are obliged to repair themselves
  • An online matchmaking repair platform to connect consumers with repairers and sellers of refurbished goods in their area. The platform will enable searches by location and quality standards, helping consumers find attractive offers, and boosting visibility for repairers. It will also enable consumers to sell used products to refurbishers
  • European Repair Information Form which consumers will be able to request from any repairer, bringing transparency to repair conditions and price, and make it easier for consumers to compare repair offers
  • European quality standard for repair services will be developed to help consumers identify repairers who commit to a higher quality. This ‘easy repair’ standard will be open to all repairers across the EU willing to commit to minimum quality standards, for example based on duration, or availability of products

Additionally today, the Commission announced measures targeting ‘greenwashing’ — via a Green Claims Directive — proposing common criteria for environmental claims by product manufacturers in a bid to combat the flood of misleading marketing that’s sprung up to feed off consumer concerns about climate change.

The bloc is already on the way to making USB-C a common charger standard after lawmakers backed a proposal to further shrink mobile e-waste last year.

Making ‘right to repair’ a reality

Speaking during a press conference to announce the dual proposals — both of which will need the backing of the European Parliament and Council before they can be adopted as EU law — the bloc’s justice and environmental commissioners, Didier Reynders and Virginijus Sinkevičius, said the measures are intended to work together to drive sustainability.

“This proposal is the latest in a series of measures to make the ‘right to repair’ a reality,” said Reynders. “First, we needed to ensure that there were more and more repairable products on the market. This is what we did with the proposal for a Regulation on eco-design, or eco-design of sustainable products… Secondly, it was also important to enable consumers to make sustainable choices based on reliable information.

“This is what we wanted to improve with the proposal “Empowering consumers for the green transition”, also adopted in March 2022. And finally, with the proposal for a Green Claims Directive… Our proposal is the last piece of the puzzle to ensure access to repair in the after-sales phase. To make repair easier, more accessible, and more attractive.”

The repair proposal aims to empower EU consumers to ask for a free repair of a faulty product when it’s under warranty (so up to two years after purchase) — which must be provided by the manufacturer if it’s less or the same cost as a full replacement.

In the case of goods that break down out of warranty, Reynders said the goal is to make it cheaper and easier for consumers to obtain a repair. A Commission Q&A on the plan suggests there will be an obligation on manufacturers to repair a product for 5-10 years after purchase (depending on the type of product) — unless a repair is technically impossible.

“The rule will be clear: The producer will no longer be able to refuse to repair your washing machine, unless repairing it is technically impossible. In other words, the producers will be obliged to look into the repair options,” he suggested. “This obligation will apply to goods that are repairable by design in the EU. Such as a washing machine, dishwasher or TV and soon also smartphones or tablets.

“This obligation will apply to the goods that are directly covered by any repairability requirements under EU law, such as the rules on Ecodesign. And we will continue to add more product groups to this list in the future, as we want Ecodesign products to become the norm. You can therefore notice the strong interconnection between today’s proposal and the Ecodesign proposal.”

“Producers will also have to inform consumers about this obligation and availability of their repair services so that consumers know about their rights,” Reynders added. “The producers will therefore be obliged to repair a product, even if the consumers caused the damage themselves. For this reason, producers can charge a price for repair.”

Per Reynders, the only scenario where a manufacturer will be exempt from the obligation to repair is when repair is impossible — such as when the goods are damaged in a way that makes repair technically unfeasible.

He said the proposal aims to open the door to the development of the repair sector — since consumers will not be obliged to go only to the manufacturer for a repair.

“They will also be able to turn to independent repairers and find other repair services that better meet their needs or offer more attractive options,” he added. “We are therefore removing the obstacles that still deter too many consumers from having repairs done. The obligations and solutions we are presenting with this text will help to reverse this trend.”

A Q&A at the end of the briefing raised questions about the cost of repair — with a member of the press pointing out that cost frequently puts consumers off from trying to repair an item vs buying a new one. On this, Reynders said last year’s Eco Design proposal will be key — suggesting that, over time, it will drive down the cost of repairs by requiring manufacturers to bake repairability and sustainability into product design.

“It means that it’s possible to really cut significantly the cost of repair,” he said. “If a product is designed to be repairable, if there’s access to different parts, components, if you can open up a device. Because often — in the sound sector for example, audio equipment, it is not possible to actually open up a device — you can’t actually get inside it yourself. So the Eco Design approach should simplify things there.”

Bye-bye greenwashing?

On greenwashing, the EU’s proposal aims to introduce “minimum requirements” for businesses that make voluntary environmental claims — in the areas of substantiation, communication, and verification.

“Companies will have to ensure the reliability of their voluntary environmental claims, and communicate their claims in a transparent way. Their claims will need to be checked by an independent verifier against the requirements of the Directive. The verifier will then issue a certificate of compliance recognised across the EU,” the Commission said in a Q&A on the Directive.

“By putting in place this common set of rules within the EU internal market, the proposal will give a competitive advantage to companies who make a genuine effort to develop environment-friendly products, services and organisational practices, and lessen their impact on the environment,” it also suggested, adding that it expects the directive to reduce the risk of legal fragmentation of the single market and save costs for businesses that have their claims certified by an accredited verifier — as well as boosting the credibility of European industries abroad.

“If you make a claim as a company, you will need to be able to prove that claim,” said Sinkevičius, speaking during today’s press conference. “So you will have to show that it’s based on science. And that it is reliable. You will have to be specific and you will need to submit your claim for checks by accredited verifiers to ensure it complies with the new directive — and of course you will need to communicate this information in a manner that’s clear and transparent.

“Taken together, these actions should prevent misleading claims from reaching consumers. They will also make life easier for consumers protection authorities once the claim appears on the market.”

Additional measures in the Commission proposal aim to rein in the proliferation of eco labels that have sprung up touting eye-catching green claims to reel in environmentally conscious consumers. “There are around 230 environmental labels on the EU market and no wonder that consumers are confused,” added Sinkevičius. “This proliferation also hinders sustainable business operating across borders and fragments our single market.

“Under new rules we will only allow new public schemes that work at the EU level. We have to mobilise the resources. We have to work together on reliable EU labels — such as the EU Eco label — and if companies want to bring in new private scheme it will need to be better than the ones that are already in place. So there should be a place for labels that show exceptional performance on environmental sustainability but only in well justified cases.”

The proposal comes armed with “teeth”, per the commissioner — who said Member State agencies will be empowered to set “dissuasive” penalties for dyed-in-the-wool greenwashers.

During the Q&A, he was asked whether carbon offsets would be banned under the Green Claims Directive given many such schemes have been found to be worthless, at best. (And given offsetting does not actually reduce carbon emissions — whereas massive reductions in CO2 are absolutely required if humanity is to avoid climate disaster.)

Sinkevičius said the proposal would not ban carbon offsetting claims altogether. But he said “full” information would have to be provided to consumers to stand up the claims being made and also provided to an independent verifier to check such projects are delivering as claimed. 

Europe tools up for the repairable future by Natasha Lomas originally published on TechCrunch

Amazon kills DPReview, the best camera review site on the web

After 25 years of extremely detailed reviews of digital cameras and accessories, the irreplaceable DPReview is being shut down by Amazon as the company proceeds with a new round of layoffs.

DPReview was founded in 1998 in England, and bought by Amazon in 2010, which relocated the team to Seattle to be closer to its headquarters; I have met many of them over the years as they settled in and around my neighborhood.

The team’s knowledge, acumen, and extensive objective testing contributed to reviews that famously reached near-comical lengths at times, but that was because shortcuts simply were not taken: you could be sure that even minor models were getting not just a fair shake, but the same treatment a flagship model received. Its back catalog of camera reviews and specs is an incredible resource that I have consulted hundreds of times. (I actually did a little freelance work for them myself 10 years back but since then they’ve simply been my valued media peers.)

This consistency and dedication drew and retained a large and dedicated community, one which produced comment threads thousands-strong on reviews and news items as they quibbled good-naturedly (and testily too, it must be said) with each other and the staff over sharpness and equivalency and the merits of one sensor arrangement or another.

Of course cameras themselves have risen and fallen in favor as they have vied with smartphones for imaging dominance — and, in terms of popularity, lost. But while far fewer people are buying standalone digital cameras in 2023 than they were in 2013, or for that matter 2003, the enthusiast and professional market remains strong and the cameras themselves have gotten incredibly good. There’s never been a better time to buy a camera — and there has never been, nor do I imagine there will ever be, a better site to help you choose one than DPReview.

Somehow Amazon never really found a way to capitalize on this one-of-a-kind asset, and DPReview has carried on over the years more or less untouched, to the point where it seems possible its parent company forgot they owned them. It’s hard not to see the opportunities that present themselves when you own one of the world’s leading expert voices on a major category, but perhaps unsurprisingly, no one thought to invest in and integrate DPReview closely with Amazon’s other properties. It isn’t the first time the left hand and right hand have been incommunicado at that company.

The team was laid off in its entirety as part of the latest round of cuts at Amazon, which like other companies has been tightening its belt — or, perhaps also like other companies, using the excuse of macroeconomic headwinds to perform reductions that at any other time would seem needless.

DPReview is hardly the first media property to get the axe during these turbulent times, but it is surely one of the oldest and most unique. Here’s hoping the talented and knowledgeable team lands on their feet, and Amazon comes to regret its decision.

Amazon kills DPReview, the best camera review site on the web by Devin Coldewey originally published on TechCrunch

The Monarch could be the next big thing in Braille

For many people around the world, braille is their primary language for reading books and articles, and digital braille readers are an important part of that. The newest and fanciest yet is the Monarch, a multipurpose device that uses the startup Dot’s tactile display technology.

The Monarch is a collaboration between HumanWare and the American Printing House for the Blind. APH is an advocacy, education, and development organization focused on the needs of visually impaired people, and this won’t be their first braille device — but it is definitely the most capable by far.

Called the Dynamic Tactile Device until it received its regal moniker at the CSUN Assistive Technology Conference happening this week in Anaheim. I’ve been awaiting this device for a few months, having learned about it from APH’s Greg Stilson when I interviewed him for Sight Tech Global.

The device began development as a way to adapt the new braille pin (i.e. the raised dots that make up its letters) mechanism created by Dot, a startup I covered last year. Refreshable braille displays have existed for many years, but they’ve been plagued by high costs, low durability, and slow refresh rates. Dot’s new mechanism allowed for closely-placed, individually replaceable, easily and quickly raisable pins at a reasonable cost.

APH partnered with HumanWare to adopt this new tech into a large-scale braille reader and writer code-named the Dynamic Tactile Device, and now known as Monarch.

These days one of the biggest holdups in the braille reading community is length and complexity of the publishing process. A new book, particularly a long textbook, may need weeks or months after being published for sighted readers before it is available in braille — if it is made available at all. And of course once it is printed, it is many times the size or the original, because braille has a lower information density than ordinary type.

A woman holds a Monarch braille reader next to a stack of binders making up an “Algebra 1” textbook.

“To accomplish the digital delivery of textbook files, we have partnered with over 30 international organizations, and the DAISY Consortium, to create a new electronic braille standard, called the eBRF,” explained an APH representative in an email. “This will provide additional functionality to Monarch users including the ability to jump page to page (with page numbers matching the print book pages numbers), and the ability for tactile graphics directly into the book file, allowing the text and graphics to display seamlessly on the page.”

The graphic capability is a serious leap forward. A lot of previous braille readers were only one or two lines, so the Monarch having 10 lines of 32 cells each allows for reading the device more like a person would a printed (or rather embossed) braille page. And because the grid of pins is continuous, it can also — as Dot’s reference device showed — display simple graphics.

Of course the fidelity is limited, but it’s huge to be able to pull up a visual on demand of a graph, animal, or especially in early learning, a letter or number shape.

Now, you may look at the Monarch and think, “wow, that thing is big!” And it is pretty big — but tools for people with vision impairments must be used and navigated without the benefit of sight, and in this case also by people of many ages, capabilities, and needs. If you think of it more like a rugged laptop than an e-reader, the size makes a lot more sense.

There are a few other devices out there with continuous pin grids (a reader pointed out the Graphiti), but it’s as much about the formats and software as it is about the hardware, so let’s hope everyone gets brought in on this big step forward in accessibility.

The Monarch could be the next big thing in Braille by Devin Coldewey originally published on TechCrunch

Goodbye Google Glass, we knew you well

Update: Google tells TechCrunch that it remains committed to augmented reality, stating, “For years, we’ve been building AR into many Google products and we’ll continue to look at ways to bring new, innovative AR experiences across our product portfolio.”

I know at least one TC staffer who is gutted by the inevitable second death of Google Glass. I won’t call them out by name, but will say that I empathize with seeing a tech giant reverse the truck to drive over a beloved piece of technology once again. Is it possible to be ahead of your time twice? Or do you have to admit at a certain point that yours is an alternate timeline?

Here’s what we know for sure: The world still wasn’t ready for Glass, even after a product makeover and shift in focus. Google confirmed plans to once again end support for its misunderstood bit of AR tech, writing:

Thank you for over a decade of innovation and partnership. As of March 15, 2023, we will no longer sell Glass Enterprise Edition. We will continue supporting Glass Enterprise Edition until September 15, 2023.

Not an entirely interrupted decade, of course. Glass celebrated its 10th anniversary last month. The original developer version of the head-worn display launched in February 2013, beginning its Glass Explorers program two months later and finally opening things up to the public in May 2014. Parodies ensued. Less than a year later, it announced that former Apple designer and Nest co-founder Tony Fadell was working on a follow-up.

Google Glass disappeared for a bit in 2015, thanking Explorers for playing along. Rumors of its death had apparently been a bit exaggerated — or at least premature. Specifically, Google Glass was shifting its focus to the enterprise. Really, that’s another way the product line was ahead of its time. HoloLens launched a year later from Microsoft, with business as its central thesis. And these days, folks like Meta, HTC and Magic Leap see the category as a saving grace on the way to mainstreaming AR/VR/MR.

Makes sense. You stand to make a lot of money selling these products to businesses in bulk. And IT departments are often willing to shell out more for products than your average consumer. A second enterprise edition arrived in 2019 with some modest upgrades.

The timing and the seeming finality of this announcement are interesting. Much of the industry is waiting to see what Apple delivers later this year with its rumored mixed reality headset. Of course, Google has been rumored to be working on a new AR product under the codename Project Iris. According to a report from early last year:

Early prototypes being developed at a facility in the San Francisco Bay Area resemble a pair of ski goggles and don’t require a tethered connection to an external power source.

The product would presumably be a more direct competitor to the current crop of XR products, including Apple. Google has also had its own checkered past with VR products, including Cardboard and Daydream. The latter was discontinued in 2019, the former finally end of lifing in 2021.

Goodbye Google Glass, we knew you well by Brian Heater originally published on TechCrunch