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A Smartphone That Lasts a Decade? Yes, It’s Possible.

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

It’s a matter that almost all of us haven’t had the luxurious of pondering. That’s because many smartphones are designed to get replaced every two or three years. And Apple, Samsung and other handset makers unveil latest models — together with big marketing campaigns — every year, encouraging us to upgrade.

But bear with me and fantasize for a moment.

If a smartphone were designed to last a decade, it will probably be made in order that we could simply open it up to switch a component like a depleted battery or a cracked screen. A lot of its components would give you the chance to be upgraded — when you wanted a greater camera, you could possibly just swap out the old one for a more moderen, more powerful one. You can also download software updates from the phone’s maker indefinitely.

Sensible and sustainable, right?

Pondering of what such a tool could be like is very relevant now as phone season — that point of yr when tech corporations blitz us with latest models — begins again. On Wednesday, Apple unveiled the iPhone 14, which bears a striking resemblance to its predecessor. Also this week Google announced plans to show latest Android phones in October. And last month Samsung introduced an array of cellphones that fold like books.

These latest wares underscore how today’s smartphones aren’t made for longevity. Many of the gadgets come tightly sealed up with glue to maintain you out of them. Parts, like cameras and screens, are unimaginable to upgrade à la carte. Software updates are guaranteed for under a finite period of time, often two years for Androids and about five years for iPhones.

Keeping us on such short cycles of smartphone ownership is great for the tech corporations and their coffers — but perhaps not a lot for us and our wallets.

Don Norman, a former vice chairman for advanced technology at Apple and the writer of nearly two dozen books on design, said smartphone makers were guilty of treating consumer technology as if it were fashion wear, releasing products every year that grow to be harder to repair and adding features that hasten obsolescence.

“You desire to make the pc out of 1 piece of metal, and you wish it to be as thin as possible,” Mr. Norman said. “So that you needed to make the battery with no case so it gets really hard to get to. You employ glue as an alternative of screws.”

Yet the thought of a longer-lasting phone needn’t be a fantasy. One already exists: the $580 Fairphone 4 made by a start-up, Fairphone, in Amsterdam. The Fairphone 4, which is sold only in Europe, has a plastic cover that could be easily removed to reveal its innards. Its components could be swapped out in minutes by removing just a few atypical screws.

The thought behind the Fairphone is that when you need a phone with latest technology, you possibly can get it without having to switch your current device entirely — and if something goes incorrect with the phone, such as you drop it, it could actually be easily fixed. That makes the Fairphone the antithesis of most smartphones today and shows how tech corporations can design the gadgets in a different way, for durability and sustainability.

Take your iPhone or Android phone and have a look at it closely. Notice the way it is shut tight with unique screws that require special screwdrivers. Apple even invented its own screw.

However the Fairphone comes with a small screwdriver that invites you to open up the phone. So, after I began testing it, that was the very first thing I did.

Taking the Fairphone apart turned out to be a breeze. Removing its plastic cover revealed its camera, battery, speakers and other components. They were held in place with atypical screws that may very well be quickly taken out with the screwdriver. In lower than five minutes, I removed all of those parts. In in regards to the same period of time, I reassembled the phone.

The experience of taking the phone apart was empowering. I had the arrogance that if I needed to do a repair or some basic maintenance, like swapping in a latest camera or battery, I could accomplish that in minutes and for affordable. (Fairphone charges $30 for a latest battery and $80 for a latest camera.)

Disassembling my iPhone, then again, was a nightmare.

After I took the Apple device apart during a previous test, it involved removing the proprietary screws with a special screwdriver and melting the glue that held the case together. To remove the battery, I had to make use of tweezers to yank on the tiny strips of glue underneath it. Although I finally succeeded in replacing the battery, I broke the iPhone’s screen in the method — and a substitute display cost about $300.

The Fairphone’s plastic cover isn’t pretty, and it will probably pop off if the phone fell on a tough surface. But even less fun could be dropping an Apple or Samsung phone with a glass back, shattering it and shelling out tons of of dollars to get it repaired (or to get it replaced).

Using the Fairphone was relatively unremarkable. It runs vanilla Android software, which implies it could actually load Google’s apps and software downloaded through the Play store.

But Eva Gouwens, Fairphone’s chief executive, said the corporate was committed to providing software updates to its phones for so long as possible. These updates are crucial for safeguarding your hardware from the newest cyberattacks and malware; in addition they be sure that your phone can run the newest apps.

A Fairphone model that got here out six years ago continues to be getting Android updates. Most Android phones stop getting updates after two years.

The Fairphone 4’s computing processor and camera left much to be desired, nonetheless. In speed tests run with the app Geekbench, the Fairphone 4 was about 35 percent slower than Google’s $600 Pixel 6 at doing things like checking email and taking photos. Pictures produced by the Fairphone 4 were grainier and fewer attractive than shots taken with iPhones and other mainstream Android phones.

Still, I wouldn’t expect Fairphone’s small team — about 110 people — to crank out computing and camera technology on a par with the massive tech corporations.

Fairphone said it was earning money, generating just a few million euros in profit in 2020 and 2021. Beyond selling phones and easy-to-install parts, the corporate is experimenting with selling services like helping people fix their devices or maintain their smartphone software, Ms. Gouwens said. That’s a slow and regular revenue stream versus the more rapid model of selling latest phones every yr.

“In the event you design a phone that lasts, and your users actually keep your device and use it longer, then you definately grow to be more profitable,” she said.

This column shouldn’t be about recommending that folks buy a Fairphone 4. The broader point is that tech corporations with incredible wealth could do a greater job of constructing their phones easier to repair and friendlier to the environment and our wallets. And we, as consumers, could do higher by changing how we take into consideration personal technology, Mr. Norman said.

“Consumers do have considerable power but provided that people band together,” he said.

One necessary step is to take care of our devices as we do our cars — consider, as an example, taking a broken device to a repair shop before resorting to replacing it. One other motion is to reject the marketing hype over every incremental feature introduced with every latest phone.

Because if we’re already blissful with our smartphones, we are going to probably proceed to be — as long as they work. And now we all know that some models can work for a really very long time.

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