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A picture shows a prototype of a Fairphone smartphone during its unveiling in London on September 18, 2013.
When the Dutch company Fairphone launched in 2013, it was supposed to be built around two related principles: sustainability, in the sense that it maintained decent working conditions and used entirely sustainable, less-hazardous, or recycled materials; and sustainability in the sense that you wouldn’t have to chuck its phone after two years. Hoping to break the typical lifecycle of smartphones, Fairphone designed models whose parts were easily replaceable—an aim it hoped would save its customers a lot of cash over the long term and avoid waste.
The Fairphone 1 launched almost four years ago. Last week, week the company announced it had to stop supporting the device, one of two it sells. That means that Fairphone will no longer offer updates to the software or supply any of the parts to repair the phone. Taking away the spare parts for sale on the company’s website, like midframes, speakers, and flashes, renders useless the product’s distinguishing feature—and means that just like the phones it was meant to supplant, Fairphone 1s will soon heading for the dustbin.
The company first produced the phone in late 2013 with the help of the Chinese manufacturing company Guohong, but in November 2014 it announced the end of that partnership because Guohong wanted to focus on creating its own phone brand. After that it became increasingly difficult to convince other part manufacturers to manufacture extra phone components, and slowly these other companies stopped producing the parts as well. (The second phone is produced by the Chinese company Hi-P International Limited.)
In particular, Fairphone’s website specifies that it is sold out of batteries, and in a blog post explaining the decision to stop supporting its first phone, the company admits that it has become too expensive to order the minimum number of batteries needed to continue supplying the parts. Instead it offers tips on its website for users who want to keep their smartphone running for as long as possible.
In that blog post, Fairphone justified its decision to not provide the parts, writing, “we were moving toward longer-lasting devices, but it wasn’t our primary objective.” You might think otherwise reading Fairphone’s own website, which claims, “We’re fighting against a market trend where the average phone is replaced every 18 months, creating a huge environmental impact” and, “We design products that last – in both their original design and in designing their repair to be as easy as possible.”
According to a review of the Fairphone 1 in the Guardian, the phone’s performance was decent, but nothing extraordinary, with an average battery and camera and screen quality that was a bit subpar for its price (roughly $616). Even if you can get the parts to keep a phone running forever, they should probably be parts that customers actually want.