‎A smartphone that lasts for a decade? Yeah, it’s possible.‎

‎A smartphone that lasts for a decade? Yeah, it’s possible.‎

‎A smartphone that’s built for longevity can be a real thing. Too bad that most of them aren’t designed that way.‎

‎This is a question that most of us have not had the luxury of pondering over. This is because many smartphones are designed to change every two or three years. And Apple, Samsung, and other handset makers unveil new models as well as major marketing campaigns every year, encouraging us to upgrade.‎

‎But stay with me and imagine for a moment.‎

‎If the smartphone was designed to last for a decade, it would probably be built in such a way that we could open it to replace a part like a finished battery or a broken screen. Many of its components will be able to upgrade — if you want a better camera, you can turn the old one into a new, more powerful camera. You can also download software updates indefinitely from the phone manufacturer.‎

‎Sensible and durable, right?‎

‎Thinking about what such a device might be like is especially relevant now as the phone season — the time of year when tech companies pair us with new models — resumes. On Wednesday, Apple unveiled the iPhone 14, which bears a striking resemblance to its predecessor. In addition, this week Google announced plans to show new Android phones in October. And last month Samsung introduced cell phones that fold like books.‎

‎These latest equipment indicates how today’s smartphones aren’t made for longevity. Most gadgets close tightly with glue to keep you away from them. It’s impossible to upgrade parts like cameras and screens to La Cart. Software updates are guaranteed only a limited time, usually two years for Android and about five years for iPhones.‎

‎Keeping us in such a short cycle of smartphone ownership is great for tech companies and their coffers — but maybe not so much for us and our wallets.‎

‎Don Norman, a former vice president of advanced technology at Apple and author of nearly two dozen books on design, says smartphone makers are guilty of treating consumer technology as if they were fashionware, releasing products every year that are difficult to repair and adding features that are difficult to repair.‎

‎”You want to make the computer out of a piece of metal, and you want it to be as thin as possible,” Said Mr. Norman. “So you had to build a battery without a case so it becomes really difficult to reach. You use glue instead of screws.‎

‎Yet the idea of a long-lasting phone need not be a concept. One of them already exists: the $580 Fairphone 4, built by Fairphone, a startup in Amsterdam. The Fairphone 4, which is sold only in Europe, has a plastic cover that can be easily removed so that its anards can be exposed. Its components can be changed in minutes by removing a few common screws.‎

‎The idea behind a FairPhone is that if you want a phone with new technology, you can get it without completely replacing your existing device — and if something goes wrong with the phone, like you leave it, it can be easily fixed. This makes fairphones the opposite of most smartphones today and shows how tech companies can design gadgets differently for sustainability and durability.‎

‎Take your iPhone or Android phone and watch it closely. Note how it is tightly closed with unique screws that require special screw drivers. Apple even invented its own screw.‎

‎But the FairPhone comes with a small screwdriver that invites you to open the phone. So, when I started testing it, it was the first thing I did.‎

‎Separating the fairphone became a breeze. Removing its plastic cover revealed its camera, battery, speaker and other components. They were placed in place with a common screw that could be quickly pulled out with a screwdriver. In less than five minutes, I removed all of those parts. In about the same amount of time, I reassembled the phone.‎

‎The experience of separating the phone was empowering. I was confident that if I had to do repairs or some basic maintenance, like exchanging in a new camera or battery, I could do it in minutes and cheaply. (The Fairphone charges $30 for a new battery and $80 for a new camera.)‎

‎Separating my iPhone, on the other hand, was a nightmare.‎

‎When I detached the Apple device during a previous test, it involved removing the proprietary screw with a special screw driver and melting the glue that held the case together. To remove the battery, I had to use a towser to pull small strips of glue under it. Although I eventually managed to replace the battery, I broke the screen of the iPhone in the process — and the replacement display cost around $300.‎

‎Fairphone’s plastic cover isn’t pretty, and it’ll probably turn off if the phone falls to a hard surface. But even less fun would be to leave an Apple or Samsung phone with a glassback, break it down and spend hundreds of dollars repairing (or replacing it).‎

‎Fair phone use was unusual. It runs vanilla Android software, which means it can load Google apps and software downloaded through the Play Store.‎

‎But Fairphone Chief Executive Eva Govins said the company was committed to providing software updates to its phones for as long as possible. These updates are important to protect your hardware from the latest cyber attacks and malware. They also make sure your phone can run the latest apps.‎

‎A Fairphone model that came out six years ago is still receiving Android updates. Most Android phones stop getting updates after two years.‎

‎However, the FairPhone 4’s computing processor and camera have left a lot to be left out. In a speed test run with app GeekBench, the FairPhone 4 was about 35 percent slower than Google’s 600 Pixel 6 in tasks like checking email and taking pictures. The images made by The Fairphone 4 were more grainy and less attractive than shots taken with iPhones and other mainstream Android phones.‎

‎Still, I wouldn’t expect Fairphone’s small team — about 110 people — to bring computing and camera technology at par with big tech companies.‎

‎Fairfon says it is making money and making a profit of a few million euros in 2020 and 2021. In addition to selling phones and easy-to-install parts, the company is experimenting with selling services such as helping people fix their devices or maintain their smartphone software, Govens said. This is a slow and steady revenue stream as opposed to the much faster model of selling new phones every year.‎

‎”If you design a phone that’s long-lasting, and your customers really retain your device and use it for longer, you become more profitable,” he said.‎

‎This column isn’t about recommending that people buy a FairPhone 4. The broader point is that tech companies with incredible wealth can do a better job of making repairing their phones easier and friendly with the environment and our wallets. “As consumers, we can do a better job by changing our thinking about personal technology,” Norman said.‎

‎”Consumers have a lot of power but only if people work together,” he said.‎

‎An important step is to maintain our devices like our cars — for example, consider taking a broken device to a repair shop before replacing it. Another process is to reject marketing advertising on every additional feature introduced with each new phone.‎

‎Because if we’re already happy with our smartphones, we’ll probably keep going — as long as they work. And now we know that some models can work for a very long time.‎

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