Does 'replaceable' matter in practice? A horrendously wasted opportunity...

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I have to confess that I've had a particular article 'in progress' for a year or so now and have got nowhere with it. And the topic is one which was raised in my look at the imminent Lumia 950 and 950 XL yesterday - they're down as having replaceable batteries, but does this make ANY difference in the current imperfect world? You can guess where this is going - my abortive article was on sourcing spare batteries for the likes of the Lumia 830, 640 and 640 XL...

You see, I'd been monitoring the accessory scene, wanting to report on the appearance of official spare batteries for the Lumia 830 in normal sales channels. I waited, I waited, and now... I've given up. Yes, it's possible to find obscure sellers on the likes of eBay claiming to sell official batteries, but you have to look quite hard and you have to trust the source. They might well be genuine, they might not. For something as critical as a Lithium-Ion battery that I don't want to under-perform or, worse, catch fire, I want to buy from recognised accessory suppliers like MobileFun (to name perhaps the best known in the UK).

Nokia Lumia 830

Ditto the Lumia 640 and Lumia 640 XL, the batteries just don't seem to be in the sales 'channel' at all. Which has to be down to the manufacturers. Samsung, before it went all iPhone-y, used to be excellent at shipping large numbers of spare batteries for its Galaxy smartphones off to accessory suppliers and it's a doddle to pick up spares or replacements for these. Not so much Microsoft, or even Nokia before it. 

"But there's no demand!" Microsoft will no doubt say, pointing to the sales figures of around, er..... zero. That the sales of spare batteries are zero because none have been available seems to have been overlooked. 

I've covered the topic of whether smartphones should have sealed or replaceable batteries before, of course, notably here, here and here. But this is the first time that I've admitted defeat, at least in the Windows Phone world. Almost everyone agrees that, in an ideal world, a user-replaceable battery is best, but many also feel that the design compromises involved (in terms of structural strength, overall internal volume and clean 'lines') in giving this access aren't worth the benefit.

Lumia 640 XL

I disagree, but I do respect that point of view, especially in light of the point of this particular feature. After all, if you can't actually BUY spare/replacement batteries for these phones, i.e. the Lumia 640, 640 XL, 830, 950 and 950 XL, then is there any benefit in them being user-swappable in the first place? If they're never going to be swapped then you might as well gain a cleaner, leaner design and have everything sealed, and leave an actual battery replacement to a service centre with trained technicians to disassemble the phone and source a replacement battery from industry spare part channels.

Not that any of this deters the determined geek, of course. I was able to change the battery in my 'sealed' Lumia 1020 in about ten minutes, famously. So it can be done. I was lucky in having a 'donor' device, but you'll have to look outside your own house. And this is where things get utterly insane. In an hour of browsing and research, I found ONE supplier, KLC, Finland, that has ONE Lumia 830 battery in stock. One unit. And nothing in stock for the 640 and 640 XL. And nothing from any other site, other than eBay. Not exactly a thriving supply chain! In fact, hardly a chain, more like a speck of dust in the corner of the room....

And in a final, supreme, laugh-out-loud irony, the device that started the whole 'sealed' trend, the Apple iPhone, has spare batteries for its various models coming out of accessory suppliers like water from a tap (every side bar, every banner), with users expected to do the disassembly themselves (in fairness, it's not that hard). 

So, let's get this straight. There are hundreds of thousands of spare cells for smartphones with no user-accessible batteries, and yet none at all for smartphones explicitly designed for this user action! We live in a crazy world. It's not only the Windows Store and ecosystem which is messed up beyond belief, the supporting spares ecosystem is even worse.

Who's to blame? Microsoft, in this case, on all counts. Will some Lumia product manager see this feature and kick off a memo to his distribution system? Let's hope so, though I'm not holding my breath....