Fair-trade smart­phone to last longer

The new model Fair­phone will be avail­able in the sec­ond half of 2015, writes Mikael Rick­näs

Tech Advisor - - NEWS ANALYSIS -

Dutch com­pany Fair­phone has an­nounced that its sec­ond smart­phone will not only be built us­ing con­flict-free or fair trade min­er­als, but also of­fer bet­ter per­for­mance and be straight­for­ward to re­pair.

Af­ter sell­ing 60,000 units of its first phone (pic­tured above), Fair­phone is now turn­ing its at­ten­tion to a new model that will go on sale in the lat­ter half of the year. With the sec­ond phone, the goal is still to man­u­fac­ture a de­vice that doesn’t use min­er­als from con­flict zones, is re­cy­clable and is made by work­ers who are treated well.

Fair­phone is also aim­ing to make prod­uct longevity a devel­op­ment goal. The longer a de­vice lasts, the less waste it cre­ates and the fewer re­sources it re­quires, founder and CEO Bas Van Abel said in a blog post.

Part of that ef­fort will be to de­velop a higher-end LTE smart­phone that re­mains com­pet­i­tive longer, ac­cord­ing to Abel.

The com­pany’s first model is pow­ered by quad-core pro­ces­sor from Me­di­aTek and has a 4.5in, 540x960 pixel screen. Be­yond adding LTE, Fair­phone didn’t say what im­prove­ments the new model will of­fer, but a 5in screen and at least 1080x1920 pix­els is rea­son­able to ex­pect. If the com­pany wants to stick with Me­di­aTek, it can choose from two 64-bit octa-core pro­ces­sors.

Fair­phone also wants to build a phone that eas­ier to re­pair. The first model got a 7 out of 10 score in a tear­down re­view on re­pair web­site iFixit. Pos­i­tive at­tributes in­cluded that it’s easy to open up the de­vice and ac­cess the com­po­nents. How­ever, the glass is fused to both the dis­play and the dis­play frame, which in­creases re­pair costs, so that should be changed on the new model.

In gen­eral, to­day’s high-end smartphone­s are a mixed bag when it comes to ease of re­pair. Ap­ple has a rep­u­ta­tion for build­ing de­vices that are dif­fi­cult to fix, but the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus also got a 7 out of 10 score on iFixit. The com­pany still uses pro­pri­etary Pen­talobe screws, and it doesn’t share re­pair in­for­ma­tion with in­de­pen­dent re­pair shops or con­sumers. But the dis­play as­sem­bly comes out eas­ily and the bat­tery is also sim­ple to ac­cess.

On the other side of the spec­trum there are prod­ucts such as the HTC One M8, which only scored 2 out of 10. The de­vice is very dif­fi­cult to open up, has a bat­tery that’s buried be­neath the moth­er­board, and the dis­play as­sem­bly can’t be re­placed with­out tun­nelling through the en­tire phone.

Fair­phone is hop­ing to boost sales with im­proved spec­i­fi­ca­tions and re­pairabil­ity. Its goal is to sell about 150,000 phones per year. That’s nowhere near as many de­vices as Ap­ple or Sam­sung, but be­cause it is a much smaller com­pany it doesn’t have to sell a high vol­ume of phones to sur­vive.

Fair­phone isn’t the only com­pany work­ing to make smartphone­s last longer. The grow­ing mo­men­tum be­hind mod­u­lar de­vices prom­ises to rev­o­lu­tion­ize how smartphone­s are built, by let­ting users de­sign their own phones and up­grade the hard­ware with­out hav­ing to buy a whole new phone.

Later this year, Google will roll out mo­bile stores where users can de­sign, print and as­sem­ble their own cus­tom hand­set based on the Ara plat­form. The Ara ar­chi­tec­ture uses an en­doskele­ton, which is the struc­tural frame and data back­bone of the de­vice. Users can at­tach dif­fer­ent mod­ules to it, depend­ing on vari­ables such as which pro­ces­sor or cam­era they want.

Finnish startup Puz­zle­phone is also work­ing on a mod­u­lar plat­form of its own. Turn­ing this vi­sion into a vi­able busi­ness will be a strug­gle, but if the goal is to build long-last­ing smartphone­s it may be the best op­tion.

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