Ever felt that uneasiness when upgrading smartphones, tablets, and the other mobile devices your field service workers use? These devices are important, to be sure, but they tend to give a manager a low sense of dread upon realizing they’ll probably have to replace them all far too soon. And they aren’t cheap.

We’ve come to accept disposable electronics. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way. We can — we should — demand longer performance out of our mobile communications tools.

That’s what iFixit CEO and co-founder Kyle Wiens said when interviewed by ZDNet blogger Eric Lai. Instead of jettisoning those expensive devices into some Chinese landfill every two years, managers can follow a few tips to make sure they’re maximizing the lifespan of their employees’ phones, tablets, and computers. (By the way, step one should be buying a solid protective carrying case.) Here’s the take-away from Wiens:

  • Understand mobile devices inside out: Increasingly, employees are relying on smartphones and tablets to get work done. Whoever is in charge of gadgetry upkeep, whether it’s a dedicated IT staff or one lucky employee, must understand the company’s mobile devices as well as they do the 8-year-old PCs tethered to the office. Service contracts with vendors such as Apple, Samsung and BlackBerry are a good safety net, but somebody must understand how to do everyday repairs in-house, from replacing a battery to fixing broken LCD screens.
  • Buy products that are repairable: In other words, don’t accept vendors’ “planned obsolescence,” as Lai calls it. Though certainly not alone, Apple is infamous for dissuading users from fixing their devices by making repairs difficult and time-intensive. In fact, a large number of iFixit’s guides are for Apple products. According to Wiens, mobile devices should last for 10+ years. Of course, even the most frugal companies likely wouldn’t put 10-year-old phones in their employees’ hands, so he’s willing to compromise on a 3-year lifespan for mobile devices, which is one year longer than the contract renewal/new device purchase rut we’ve grown accustomed to every other year.
  • Get repair information from the vendors: Great thought, though very few vendors release any repair documentation — and those that do tend to release convoluted, text-heavy directions that, if anything, increase the likelihood that an amateur will mutilate the device beyond repair.

There are other options, as well, including leasing. Some service firms opt to lease their fleets, and TMNG Global, a digital media and communications consulting firm, wants to bring that model to smartphones. Details are a bit thin on how the program would actually work — and the proposed fees of $20 to $35 per month for every phone seems a bit steep — but it’s an interesting idea nonetheless.

Bottom line: A little know-how, patience and elbow grease (and a case!) can go a long way to ensuring your employees have the mobile devices they need, without breaking the bank.