A ten-year-old smartphone? Yes, it is possible.

What if a smartphone could be used for 10 years?

This is a question that most of us don’t have time to think about. This is because many smartphones are designed to be replaced every two or three years. Every year Apple, Samsung and other phone makers introduce new models and big marketing campaigns to encourage us to upgrade.

But bear with me and fantasize.

If a smartphone was designed to last ten years, we might build it so that we could simply open it up to replace parts like a dead battery or a cracked screen. Many of its components can be upgraded—if you want a better camera, you can swap out the old one for a newer, more powerful one. You can also download software updates from the phone manufacturer indefinitely.

Smart and sustainable, right?

As the phone season begins again — when tech companies roll out new models to us every year — it’s all the more important to think about what such a device might look like. On Wednesday, Apple unveiled the iPhone 14, which bears a striking resemblance to its predecessor. Also this week, Google announced plans to reveal new Android phones in October. Last month, Samsung unveiled a line of phones that fold like a book.

These latest offerings underscore how today’s smartphones aren’t built for longevity. Most gadgets are sealed with glue to keep you away from them. Parts like cameras and screens are impossible to upgrade from a single point. Software updates are only guaranteed for a limited time, typically two years for Android and around five years for iPhone.

Keeping us with such short smartphone ownership cycles is good for tech companies and their coffers — but probably not so much for us and our wallets.

Don Norman, a former Apple vice president of advanced technology and author of nearly two dozen design books, said smartphone makers see consumer technology as fashion, with products released each year that become harder to fix and add features that accelerate obsolescence.

“You want to make a computer out of a piece of metal, and you want it to be as thin as possible,” Mr Norman said. “So you have to make the battery without the case, so it’s really hard to get hold of. You use glue instead of screws.”

However, the idea of ​​a longer-lasting phone doesn’t have to be a fantasy. One already exists: the $580 Fairphone 4, made by Amsterdam-based startup Fairphone. The Fairphone 4, which is only sold in Europe, has a plastic cover that can be easily removed to reveal its interior. Its components can be replaced in minutes by removing just a few common screws.

The idea behind Fairphone is that if you want a phone with new technology, you don’t need to completely replace your current device to get it – if something goes wrong with the phone, like if you drop it, it can be easily repaired. This makes Fairphone the antithesis of most smartphones today, and shows how tech companies can design gadgets differently for durability and sustainability.

Grab your iPhone or Android phone and take a closer look. Notice how it closes with a unique screw that requires a special screwdriver. Apple even invented its own screw.

But the Fairphone comes with a small screwdriver that invites you to open the phone. So, when I started testing it, it was the first thing I did.

Taking apart the Fairphone is a breeze. Remove the plastic cover to gain access to the camera, battery, speakers and other components. They are secured with ordinary screws and can be quickly removed with a screwdriver. I removed all these parts in less than five minutes. In about the same time, I reassembled the phone.

The experience of taking the phone apart is exhilarating. I am confident that if I have to do a repair or some basic maintenance, like a new camera or battery, I can do it cheaply in minutes. (Fairphone costs $30 for a new battery and $80 for a new camera.)

On the other hand, disassembling my iPhone was a nightmare.

When I took an Apple device apart in a previous test, it involved using a special screwdriver to remove the proprietary screws and melting the glue that held the case together. To remove the battery, I had to yank the little strip of adhesive under it with tweezers. Although I eventually managed to replace the battery, I broke the iPhone’s screen in the process – the cost to replace the display was about $300.

The Fairphone’s plastic case isn’t pretty, and if the phone is dropped on a hard surface, it can pop out. But even less fun is smashing an Apple or Samsung phone with a glass back and spending hundreds of dollars to repair (or replace).

Using a Fairphone is rather unremarkable. It runs normal Android software, which means it can load Google apps and software downloaded through the Play Store.

But Fairphone CEO Eva Gouwens said the company is committed to providing software updates to its phones for as long as possible. These updates are essential to protect your hardware from the latest cyberattacks and malware; they also ensure your phone can run the latest apps.

The Fairphone model launched six years ago is still getting an Android update. Most Android phones stop updating after two years.

However, the Fairphone 4’s computing processor and camera leave a lot to be desired. In a speed test run using the Geekbench app, the Fairphone 4 was about 35 percent slower than Google’s $600 Pixel 6 for things like checking email and taking pictures. Photos from the Fairphone 4 are grainier and less appealing than photos taken by the iPhone and other mainstream Android phones.

However, I don’t expect Fairphone’s small team — about 110 people — to be on par with the big tech companies in computing and camera technology.

Fairphone says it is making money, generating several million euros in profit in 2020 and 2021. In addition to selling phones and easy-to-install parts, the company is also trying to sell services, such as helping people fix their devices or maintain their smartphone software. Govins said. It’s a slow-and-steady revenue stream, not the faster model of selling new phones every year.

“If you design your phone to last, and your users actually keep your device and use it longer, then you’re going to be more profitable,” she said.

This column is not advising people to buy the Fairphone 4. The broader view is that tech companies with staggering wealth can do better to make their phones easier to repair and kinder to the environment and our wallets. As consumers, we can do better by changing how we think about personal technology, Mr Norman said.

“Consumers do have considerable power, but only if people come together,” he said.

An important step is to maintain our equipment like a car – consider taking damaged equipment to a repair shop, for example, to have it replaced. Another move is to reject the marketing hype for every incremental feature introduced with every new phone.

Because if we’re already comfortable with our smartphones, we’ll probably continue to do so — as long as they work. Now we know that some models can work for a long time.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.