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Emmanuel Brousse
Recommandation | 1er mars

Unplanned obsolescence
A particular feature of the new smartphones on the market: they can be customized. Are we going to keep them any longer?

A particular feature  of the new smartphones on the market: they can be customized.  Are we going to keep them longer? © Gunter Von Kloster Kampen
A smartphone is fragile and doesn’t last long. A shock, a glass of water or a broken-down battery and it goes to waste. This fragility is expensive for the users and it sends devices full of polluting substances to disposal. But consumers are tired of planned obsolescence, and the impact of electronic devices on the environment is becoming more and more menacing. Hence, manufacturers have started to imagine more sustainable and greener products.
To make smartphones last longer, the magic recipe seems to be modular design. Several large manufacturers such as LG or Motorola (bought out by the Chinese Lenovo) strive to integrate replaceable components in their smartphones to make repairs easier.

Adjustable, therefore sustainable

Others are ready to go even further. A Finnish team has already commercialised the Puzzlephone which, as the name indicates is composed of detachable and replaceable elements – three of them, in this case. The smartphone is supposed to be capable of lasting for 10 years. In case of a cracked screen or a faulty battery, only one component has to be changed.
The Puzzlephone telephone contains 3 replaceable elements © DR
The Puzzlephone telephone contains 3 replaceable elements
This system also offers the possibility of having an “evolving” phone where elements can be improved separately when needed and replaced by higher performing components when commercialised. Inspired by the concept, the Dutch company Fairphone, whose first smartphone was launched three years ago, released in early 2016 a second, more accomplished, version with components that can easily be taken apart and replaced by anyone with a screwdriver.
Apart from being sustainable and adjustable, Fairphone2 attempts to be morally correct. The materials used in the manufacturing process come from industries providing decent wages to minors and to those employed in the production lines. It has been honoured with the the UN Momentum for change Award, in December 2015, at the time of COP21, and Fairphone became the first smartphone manufacturer certified Fairtrade, by Max Havelaar standards, thanks to its contribution to the development of a great sustainable supply channel for general public electronics.
A particular feature  of the new smartphones on the market: they can be customized.  Are we going to keep them longer? © DR

Google lying in wait

If Puzzlephone and Fairphone remain the “little ones” in the smartphone jungle, the large manufacturers are also interested in the concept of adjustments. Google has been working for some time on the Ara Project. An excessive ambition is hidden behind the code name. The giant of Mountain View wishes to supply a personalized telephone for seven billion people. The core idea is a system of adjustable blocks, comparable to Lego bricks, that users can combine on a ‘skeleton’ to create their own smartphone according to their budgets and needs (the skeleton should not cost more than 50 dollars). Photo lovers could include a block for optical zoom whereas others could add a physical keyboard. Although promising, the project has experienced some pitfalls. The prototype presented by Google allowed to combine different parts thanks to magnets and it should have been commercialised at the end of 2015 in Porto Rico. But this system seems to have been abandoned for its weak robustness. A launch in the US in 2016 has been mentionned but without further information concerning the ‘skeleton’. Google choses to hook the parts.
Whilst waiting for adjustable smartphones to flood the market, other solutions for making a small gesture for the planet while choosing your smartphone exist. For example, the page ifixit.com allows one to enquire on the possibility to repair your mobile phone. Each model is graded according to the ease in replacing different parts, the access to the battery, the possibility in changing the screen etc.

Repair or Recycle

Whilst waiting for adjustable smartphones to flood the market, other solutions for making a small gesture for the planet while choosing your smartphone exist. For example, the page ifixit.com allows one to enquire on the possibility to repair your mobile phone. Each model is graded according to the ease in replacing different parts, the access to the battery, the possibility in changing the screen etc.
Another possibility is to go for a second hand device. Recommerce.com has specialised in the reconditioning of recent smartphones to avoid devices, which are still in good condition, to go into the bin. In partnership with Bouygues, the company offers second hand devices made over as new, provided with a box, its accessories and a guarantee. An opportunity for the user to choose his smartphone in an eco-responsible way while at the same time significantly reducing the bill.

 To know more

 After a first model in 2013, the Dutch Fairphone have just brought out a second telephone in which several pieces can be changed on request
 The Puzzlephone telephone contains 3 replaceable elements
 Launched by Google, the Ara Project the Ara Project aims to create entirely adjustable smartphones
 The on line guide ifixit.com class the smartphone entirely on their repairable capacity
 Recommerce reconditions recent smartphones and then sell them in partnership with Bouyges
Crédits photo : Gunter Von Kloster Kampen, DR
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