No matter your ethical or societal bent, it's impossible to escape the daily headlines of companies heading down dark paths or the discovery of unethical practices. This happens in every sector from car manufacturers to mobile technology. Every once in awhile, however, a company arises to break free from that mold and show that modern businesses can, in fact, sell products that do not skirt around ethical practices in the name of bottom line.
One such company is Fairphone. The company has already one product under their belt, the Fairphone. Now, they are returning to what they do (ethically) best and working on the Fairphone 2. What, exactly, are the Fairphones? They are repairable/upgradable smartphones created with as many conflict-free resources as possible that give back. The giving back is in the form of donations to the worker welfare fund in China as well as an electronic waste recycling program. That was the primary goal of the original Fairphone. The second iteration of the device is taking this one step further.
That's right readers... a repairable smartphone. That raises the bar significantly in this era of mass consumption that threatens to tear our environment apart. The way our society now works is you use a product for a while and, when it has worn out its welcome, you chuck said product and purchase a new one. That is not only problematic for the ecosystem, it is irresponsible consumerism. For that reason, Fairphone is doing for the consumer exactly what they need.
Of course, the problems Fairphone face are significant. The idea of an ethical phone won't hold much traction (especially in a market such as the US) if the device isn't a worthy contender to the iPhone/Galaxy/Nexus devices. Even if the device is future-proof by design of being modularly upgradable, it still has to be able to hold its own in the spotlight. Can it? Here are the specs:
- CPU: 2.3GHz Snapdragon 801 processor
- Memory: 2GB of RAM, 32GB of storage (expandable via microSD)
- Display: 5-inch 1080p display (with Gorilla Glass protection)
- Network: Cat 4 LTE-A radio, dual-SIM slots, dual-band WiFi (including 802.11ac support)
- OS: Android 5.1 Lollipop
As you can see, these are some fairly mid-range specs. Couple with this, two major drawbacks
- 8 MP main camera
- No NFC
and the Fairphone 2 is already hobbled out of the starting gate. Now we're looking at an ethical mid-range phone that also happens to have very little external sex appeal. Internally, the Fairphone 2 is all heart and, in a perfect world, this phone should take the world by storm. Unfortunately we don't live in a perfect world and even a product with the heart of an ecological champion will struggle to find an audience.
And that, my friends, is a shame. We, as a whole, need such mobile technology that is more repairable and less disposable. Consider this: Q2 of 2015 had over 341 million shipments of smartphone devices (according to IDC). At some point, due to lack of knowledge or resources, a good portion of those devices will find their way into landfills. With products like the Fairphone 2, those devices would remain in the hands of consumers longer.
This, of course, has a fairly significant question mark looming in the horizon. That question?
How convenient and cost effective are the repairs and upgrades? Is this like Google's Project Ara? Can it be easily snapped apart, reconfigured, and turned back on as easily as connecting a peripheral device? Or will this require a technician to tear down and rebuild? As you can see from the schematics (Figure A), it looks as if each individual component can be removed and replaced by removing a few screws.
The exploded view of the Fairphone 2 schematics.
Based on my experience with the general public, I wonder if this design is modular and easily enough repaired by the average person. Fortunately, Fairphone has a nice video (Figure B) demonstrating how to break down the phone into its six replaceable modules (battery, the main PCB, display module, main camera, selfie shooter/earpiece, and microphone).
Tear down of the Fairphone 2.
That's pretty easy... easy enough that the average consumer could successfully tear apart and rebuild this device.
There are only two other obvious issues:
- How to locate replacement parts
- Will Fairphone supply timely upgrade kits
If Fairphone can successfully address those remaining issues, they could have a game-changing product on their hands.
I'm all for the Fairphone 2. It's what we need coming to fruition right when we need it. The only problem is this: Is the world ready to change their mindset? That's the big "what if"... one that could make or break this product and company.
What do you think? Can the Fairphone 2 succeed in today's market? If not, why?
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Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.