A decade-old smartphone? Yes, it is possible – The Irish Times

What would a smartphone look like if it could last for 10 years?

It’s a question most of us haven’t had the luxury of thinking about. That’s because many smartphones are designed to be replaced every two or three years. And Apple, Samsung, and other phone makers unveil new models — along with big marketing campaigns — every year, encouraging us to upgrade. But bear with me and imagine for a moment.

If the smartphone is designed to last a decade, it will probably be made so that we can simply open it up to replace a part like a drained battery or a cracked screen. Many of its components can be upgraded – if you want a better camera, you can just replace the old one with a newer, more powerful one. You can also download software updates from the phone maker indefinitely.

Reasonable and sustainable, right?

Thinking about what a device like this should look like is especially important now that phone season — that time of year when tech companies attack us with new models — begins again. On Wednesday, Apple unveiled the iPhone 14, which is strikingly similar to its predecessor. Also this week, Google announced plans to showcase new Android phones in October. And last month, Samsung introduced a line of smartphones that fold like books.

These modern gadgets confirm how today’s smartphones are not made for longevity. Most tools come sealed with glue to keep you out of them. It is impossible to upgrade parts, such as cameras and monitors, on demand. Software updates are only guaranteed for a limited period of time, usually two years for Android devices and about five years for iPhones.

Keeping us in such short cycles of smartphone ownership is great for tech companies and their vaults — but perhaps not so much for us and our wallets.

Don Norman, a former vice president of advanced technology at Apple and author of nearly two dozen books on design, said smartphone makers are guilty of treating consumer technology as if it were fashion apparel, releasing products each year that are hard to fix and adding features that speed obsolescence.

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

However, the idea of ​​a phone that lasts long doesn’t have to be just a fantasy. One that already exists: the €579 Fairphone 4 made by a startup, Fairphone, in Amsterdam. The Fairphone 4, which is only sold in Europe, has a plastic cover that can be easily removed to expose its interior. Its components can be swapped out in minutes by removing a few regular screws.

The idea behind Fairphone is that if you want a phone with new technology, you can get it without having to completely replace your existing device — and if something goes wrong with the phone, like dropping it, it can be easily fixed. This makes Fairphone the antithesis of most smartphones today and shows how tech companies can design gadgets differently, for durability and sustainability.

Take your iPhone or Android phone and look at it closely. Note how tightly it locks with unique screws that require special screwdrivers. Apple even invented its own screw.

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

It turns out that disassembling the Fairphone is easy. Removing the plastic cover revealed the camera, battery, speakers, and other components. They are held in place with standard screws that can be quickly removed with a screwdriver. In less than five minutes, I removed all those parts. At about the same time, I reassembled the phone.

The experience of disassembling the phone was a powerful thing. I had confidence that if I had to do a repair or some basic maintenance, like replacing a new camera or battery, I could do it in minutes and cheaply. (Fairphone charges €30 for the new battery and €60 for the new camera.)

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

When I unscrewed the Apple device during a previous test, it involved removing the screws of a special screwdriver and melting the glue that holds the case together. To remove the battery, I had to use tweezers to peel off the little strips of glue underneath. Although I eventually had the battery replaced, I broke my iPhone screen in the process – and a replacement screen costs around $300 (€301).

The Fairphone’s plastic cover is not pretty, and is likely to explode if the phone is dropped on a hard surface. But even less fun is dropping an Apple or Samsung phone with a glass back, smashing it and shelling out hundreds of dollars to fix it (or replace it).

Fairphone use was rather unremarkable. It runs vanilla Android, which means it can load Google apps and software downloaded through the Play Store.

But Eva Gouwens, CEO of Fairphone, said the company is committed to providing software updates to its phones for as long as possible. These updates are necessary to protect your devices from the latest cyber-attacks and malware; They also ensure that your phone can run the latest apps.

The Fairphone model introduced six years ago is still getting Android updates. Most Android phones stop receiving updates after two years.

However, the Fairphone 4’s computing processor and camera left much to be desired. In speed tests run using the Geekbench app, the Fairphone 4 was about 35 per cent slower than Google’s Pixel 6 – which is available in Ireland for around €520 – at doing things like checking email and taking photos. The photos produced by Fairphone 4 were less attractive than shots taken with iPhones and other mainstream Android phones.

However, I don’t expect Fairphone’s small team – about 110 people – to perform its computing and camera technology on a par with the big tech companies.

Fairphone said it was profitable, with profits of a few million euros in 2020 and 2021. In addition to selling phones and easy-to-install parts, the company is experimenting with selling services such as helping people fix their devices or maintaining their smartphone software, Gouwens said. . This is a slow and steady revenue stream compared to the faster model selling new phones each year.

“If you design a phone that lasts, and users actually keep your device and use it for longer, you become more profitable,” she said.

This column isn’t about recommending that people buy the Fairphone 4. The broader point is that tech companies of great wealth can do a better job of making it easier to fix their phones and making them more environmentally friendly and our wallets. We, as consumers, can do better by changing the way we think about personal technology, Norman said.

“Consumers have a lot of power but only if people come together,” he said.

An important step is to maintain our appliances as we do with our cars – consider, for example, taking a broken appliance to a repair shop before resorting to having it replaced. Another measure is to dismiss the marketing hype on every additional feature that is introduced with every new phone.

Because if we’re really happy with our smartphones, we might as well keep going – as long as they work. And we now know that some models can run for a very long time.

– This article originally appeared in . format New York times