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Scharon Harding –
AirPods are a convenient accessory… until the charging case breaks. Functioning earpieces are useless without a case to juice them up. And as one user has detailed, Apple would rather you buy a whole new case than fix the one you have. Well, considering the e-waste the planet’s drowning in and the premium price of Apple’s wireless headphones, that’s an inconvenient truth. But now if you’re willing to break your warranty and put your faith in the hands of a clever tech tinkerer, you can get the printed circuit board (PCB) needed to replace the battery in your AirPods Pro case and give it a USB-C port while you’re at it.
The mod comes from Ken Pillonel’s Exploring the Simulation YouTube channel. Pillonel’s the same guy who brought you an Android phone with a Lightning port and an iPhone with USB-C. About six months ago, he also posted a video demoing how to make a PCB and 3D-printed case for repairing the first- and second-generation AirPods and equipping them with USB-C.
On Wednesday, Pillonel brought his mad genius to the AirPods Pro. The DIYer has shared on GitHub how to 3D-print an AirPods Pro case, since it’s hard to open the things for repair without breaking them.
Taking things even further, Pillonel is currently selling the custom PCB he designed that’s meant to fix an AirPods Pro case’s Lightning port by replacing it with a functioning USB-C one. With the world moving to USB-C, including via an EU mandate, this could give AirPods Pro even more longevity.
AirPods Pro are notoriously unrepairable. iFixit gave them a repairability score of 0, saying they’re “theoretically semi-serviceable,” but their “non-modular, glued-together design and lack of replacement parts makes repair both impractical and uneconomical.” With how hard the cases are to open and the lack of available parts, it’s clear that, despite environmental and financial drawbacks, Apple would rather you fork over money for a new case than replace an aged battery or faulty port.
Pillonel’s fix will be overly impractical to many, but to make things easier he’s selling the so-called USB-C Flex for CHF34.90 (about $38) or 10 for CHF249 (about $270).
He’s also selling a first-gen AirPods Pro case that’s already modded to support USB-C (CHF299/$324); although, he notes it may come with some physical defects, like scratches, “due to the difficulty of the modding.” That’s more than the $249 that Apple currently charges for the second-gen AirPods Pro, but who am I to dictate the value of USB-C connectivity? PiIlonel claims the parts will start shipping by the end of April.
As Pillonel’s shop notes, using these homegrown parts voids Apple’s warranty. The custom PCB isn’t what you should buy if you’re not used to doing your own repairs or don’t want to bet expensive tech on a component purchased from a maker online. The custom PCB also doesn’t work with the second-generation AirPods Pro that came out in September.
Still, Pillonel’s work and shop are an awkward reminder of how much simpler repairs could be with greater support from tech giants. Apple itself has taken recent steps by launching self-service repair programs for Macs and iPhones. But there’s still a long way to go for Apple to truly embrace self-repairs, including with its AirPods.
And Pillonel’s self-made PCB really makes you think. If a YouTuber can purchase the tools and set up a shop that purportedly allows people to keep their AirPods Pro case when the battery dies or port stops working properly, why doesn’t Apple? How much waste could AirPods Pro users save if Apple sold a cheap component like this? And what other gadgets could become more repairable with this type of research?
You can check out Pillonel’s full video detailing the AirPods Pro mod below:
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