back to article Repairable-by-design Fairphone runs out of spare parts

Fairphone, the effort to build a smartphone that “puts social values first” by using exploitation-free factories, conflict-free minerals and being gentle to the planet by being easy to repair, has ended support for its first phone. The first Fairphone debuted in December 2013, offering a 4.3-inch display and Android 4.2.2. 60, …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    No ethical consumption under capitalism

    The slightly more expensive, but wholesomely branded alternative is just as bad. With food it'll often be made by the same company, and even come from the wholesaler.

    Whatever you buy there's a pile of corpses out there.

    1. Freddie

      Re: No ethical consumption under capitalism

      With regards to food, I agree it can feel like the "ethical" brands are just PR exercises at times, but often looking a little further can yield actually better products (in terms of ethics - I'm not going to argue that the most delicious products aren't often the least ethical...). There IS a range of ethicality (?) out there, but it's hidden amongst the mislead and the misleading.

      I don't know much about this phone but surely, given the premise, the creators will do a better job than those that openly don't care about the provenance of the materials/welfare of the workers in the supply chain? Better, while not perfect, is still better.

    2. Kiwi Silver badge
      WTF?

      Re: No ethical consumption under capitalism

      The slightly more expensive, but wholesomely branded alternative is just as bad. With food it'll often be made by the same company, and even come from the wholesaler.

      Was out buying some cookware yesterday. "Simon Gault" branded pan - near $200. Exactly identical in every respect (size, shape, colour, materials, decorations and literally everything else) other-brand - $50. Why do people put up with this? Nothing but the brand is changed!

      And this is from one of NZ's most ethical firms!

  2. Nifty

    Was just wondering if the Fairphone makers might turn their attention to PRINTERS next. I'm fed up with junking them when one tiny part fails.

    1. David Roberts Silver badge

      Printers?

      How much would you pay, though?

      There is a cost to stocking and supplying spare parts, and when you can get a new "loss leader" for 30-40 UKP to suck you into buying yet more ink the repair would have to be pretty damn cheap.

      1. Julz
        Happy

        Re: Printers?

        Print the part...

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Printers?

        "There is a cost to stocking and supplying spare parts"

        Not if you can 3D print them. #justsayin

        You just need a supply of raw materials for that. Why produce in advance if you can produce on demand. Or even let the consumer do it.

      3. Updraft102 Silver badge

        Re: Printers?

        The problem I had is that I needed new ink cartridges just about every time I had to print something. It's not all that common these days that I need to, but when I do need to... well, I want to be able to. By that time, though, my ink cartridge that had printed all of about three pages in its lifetime was dried out and dead, and attempts to revive it with water and rubbing alcohol never worked.

        I bought a cheap laser printer instead. It's black and white, cost a few times more than one of those disposable inkjets, and has saved me quite a bit so far. As I understand, the toner in these guys doesn't go bad... it can settle in time, but if I take the toner cart out and shake it a bit, it's back to working again. So far, in a few years of rare use, it has never let me down.

        I preferred the days of the couple hundred dollar dot matrix printer that was built like a tank and lasted forever on a ribbon cart that was relatively cheap. They were painfully slow (printing in Windows 3.0 could take hours with a big document; the text had to be rendered in memory and transmitted to the printer as a line of bitmap at a time) and loud too, but I probably printed more pages on my Panasonic KXP-1124 than on all printers since times ten. Thing still worked fine when it fell into disuse as I could no longer find a computer with a parallel port to connect it to.

        1. Stuart 22

          Re: Printers?

          "I bought a cheap laser printer instead. It's black and white, cost a few times more than one of those disposable inkjets, and has saved me quite a bit so far. As I understand, the toner in these guys doesn't go bad... it can settle in time, but if I take the toner cart out and shake it a bit, it's back to working again."

          HP even lie about the toner. My LaserJet Pro 200 Color started complaining about low toner last year. I bought a new cartridge but decided to sit out installing it until something happened.

          Well every so often it flashes the orange light with ever increasing cries of starvation. Bit of a nuisance having to push the <OK> key not once but twice to continue - especially if I'm printing from a remote location. I supposed that's HP's way of trying to bully me into givin' them dough.

          No way! The copies continue to be printed perfectly from an 'empty' cartridge.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Printers?

            Old school Laserjets for the win. They were built like tanks.

            I have a 4050n and 10 spare 100,000 page toner cartridges. Im sorted til I die. Ive had it since '98.

            Its performed numerous massive runs for mailshots, its been hammered. It is a warrior. It won't die. Everything supports it. Best and oldest bit of kit I own.

            Come the apocalypse ill be the one guy capable of printing large print runs.

    2. TechnicalBen Silver badge

      Just buy another one...

      I got my latest printer for £3 from a charity shop, practically new. Considering my first for college cost me £300 (I wanted a nice good AIO from HP! :D ), a massive savings!

      I think the actual printer is ~£30/20 new, so not bad either way.

  3. David Roberts Silver badge

    4 year life?

    So just the same as my Samsung Galaxy S3. Dead from a hardware fault and not really worth repairing, because you shell out a load of money and get a 4 year old phone with no OS support in return.

    No mention in the article about OS updates either. I trust there is ongoing ethical support of the software for those who still have working hardware.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: 4 year life?

      How long will Qualcomm keep supporting the Snapdragon 801? It's the SoC that is in the Nexus 5, which Google has stopped support.

      For newer handsets that will get Android O, there is a good chance that Google's Project Treble will make it easier for vendors to roll out Android updates.

    2. TechnicalBen Silver badge

      Re: 4 year life?

      I don't understand parts suppliers... Oh, I know there is supply and demand and all that, but I still find it bizarre. Example:

      Laptop new cost you £300.

      Old laptop you own, would cost £150 to replace with a current bottom of the line model as specs have advanced.

      Spare screen would cost £100 when it was all new.

      Now? On Ebay? They want £150 or £200.

      Second hand models either cost £80 or £200, so either cheaper than a repair, or more expensive than new (though different) models!

      It's cheaper to replace the entire thing with another second hand or an entirely new one. How do these parts sellers even sell anything with at least double the price a customer would pay!?!

      1. Fihart

        Re: 4 year life?

        So right. Back when Dell laptops were all similar in design and shared components I needed a hard disk tray. Bid for one on ebay and lost -- it went for about £12 as I recall. Next week found an entire laptop from same range for £15 with broken screen in fleamarket. Haven't bothered ebay since.

      2. juice Bronze badge

        Re: 4 year life?

        "It's cheaper to replace the entire thing with another second hand or an entirely new one. How do these parts sellers even sell anything with at least double the price a customer would pay!?!"

        Because the cost of replacing the hardware is still cheaper than the cost of rebuilding your preferred/required setup on new hardware, especially in terms of time.

        Admittedly, with things moving to "cloud" based sync'ing and storage, this is becoming less of a factor. But it is still a factor.

    3. ilmari

      2 year life

      According to the article, FP1 was still sold in 2015. It is now 2017, and the device is unsupported. If someone had bought it on a 2 year contract from an operator in late 2015, it might've entered unsupported status before the customer had even paid it off! Not to mention statutory warranty periods..

      1. YARR

        4 year life

        According to https://www.fairphone.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Infographic.jpg FP1 was released in May 2013 and FP2 in July 2015. The pre-orders are for the FairPhone 2-2. This probably explains the somewhat outdated spec given in this article.

  4. IfYouInsist

    @David Roberts

    Proud owner of a Fairphone 1 here. Software support has been rather tragic for a simple reason. FP founders are mostly design/marketing folks and had no software chops when they started. They licensed a reference design from the manufacturing partner which saddled the FP1 with components supported only by binary blobs from open-source-hostile companies. Later they hired some coders to try upping the Android version from 4.2.2 to 4.4 but even that floundered in the end. FP2 has higher priority, I imagine.

    Many FP1 owners seem to be disappointed but, being a first shot at the concept, I think the FP1 has been quite a success. It has certainly served me well.

    1. TechnicalBen Silver badge

      Nice to hear they tried...

      But I guess you either need engineers (and programmers), or need to make massive cut backs in scope. Say, going for a known supported generic model, instead of rolling your own.

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Unhappy

        "Say, going for a known supported generic model, instead of rolling your own."

        That was pretty much what FP 1 did.

        Then the support got pulled by the suppliers of the "binary blobs"

        End of story.

        He who controls the closed source embedded software controls the hardware.

        Always. Ask Intel.

  5. Christian Berger Silver badge

    Why on earth didn't they just use standard components?

    I mean there are various kinds of standard battery packs which are used by multiple manufacturers. Same goes for displays and probably most other components.

    1. Blitheringeejit
      Holmes

      Re: Why on earth didn't they just use standard components?

      Multiple manufacturers != long manufacturing life. Batteries are particularly awkward for the Fairphone project, I suspect - they deteriorate progressively rather than just working or failing, so they will always need replacing eventually - but no-one (other than Fairphone themselves) have any commercial incentive to keep making them in the same form factor indefinitely.

      Fairphone have had a serious crack at addressing the obsolescence problem inherent in devices like phones, and I applaud them for it - I have a Fairphone2 which works very nicely. But there are limitations on how much it's possible to achieve, partly because ethical trading practices are always undermined by the nature of raw capitalism, and partly because not everyone is lucky enough to be able to pay a premium for a sustainable and/or ethically-sourced product.

      So we pick and choose our allegiances and priorities to suit our whim - I buy my organic veg from Waitrose and my electrickery from Ecotricity, but my beer comes from Lidl. :)

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Why on earth didn't they just use standard components?

        "Oh Lisa honey, I don't think we can afford to shop somewhere with ethics"

        - Marge Simpson

        1. Dave 126 Silver badge

          Re: Why on earth didn't they just use standard components?

          > Multiple manufacturers != long manufacturing life.

          The classic iPod battery was available for years, even off the shelf in Maplins... It fitted the iRiver Hxxx series players, too, if you reversed the cable polarity. I can't think of a product today that has enjoyed a similarly long production life, though I assume there must be for things like £500 portable audio recorders.

      2. Blotto Bronze badge
        WTF?

        Re: Why on earth didn't they just use standard components?

        "I buy my organic veg from Waitrose and my electrickery from Ecotricity, but my beer comes from Lidl. :)"

        the funny thing is that I get the same eco or un eco electricity as you but I have a contract with the cheapest supplier.

        My phone runs over the same airwaves and same providers as yours and was purchased in 2014 yet is still supported by the manufacturer,

        in fact the manufacturer have already announced their 2013 model (still supported too) will be compatible with their forthcoming next release.

        To me it seems that Global manufacturers producing phones on mass already have a better longevity model than FairPhone, who appear to be just another Android shop with a supposed ethical twist.

        Sorry.

        1. silks

          Re: Why on earth didn't they just use standard components?

          Yep, hard to see that there's a yawning gap in the market here.

      3. Christian Berger Silver badge

        Re: Why on earth didn't they just use standard components?

        Well but for example AA-batteries are and will be available for decades. The same goes for 18650 cells.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: Why on earth didn't they just use standard components?

          I just ducked taped half a dozen 18650s onto the back of my phone and then connected them with curly red and black wires.

          As a bonus I got to spend some intimate quality time with a very nice man from the TSA last time I flew.

  6. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

    First time I've heard of this type of phone. And it do make sense, that you will still be able to repair it when something goes to the Land of Bork, never to return.

    Will be interesting to keep tabs on this sort of thing.

    Now if they could do laptops...

    1. Christian Berger Silver badge

      Well with laptops the problem is less problematic as there is a strong business market, and to get into that, your laptop needs to be easy to maintain.

  7. Lee D Silver badge

    If you made things properly modular, you'd be able to get a module for the new equivalent component and some convertor that would make it work.

    ARM chips are ridiculously backwards-compatible (even if you had to tie to it an onboard RAM module too), you could make GPS modules just talk NMEA over the wire, batteries haven't changed that much that you couldn't at least supply and equivalent or smaller battery module (even if it meant also changing the "charger" module).

    The problem is that you've just made... a phone. That was obsolete in 4 years. And costs more than a normal phone. Quite what you've gained, I have no idea. Does the fancy "green" ethic hinder getting equivalent replacement parts by any chance, or ramp up prices? Yeah, that's why people don't do it.

    I wouldn't pay THAT much more for a modular phone, because at those prices the whole phone becomes "modular". Throw it away and buy another of the same type, or just buy two to start with.

    But I cannot see a reason that you couldn't bundle everything in a fixed-size package, talking a standard I2C, and then just literally clip 2/3/4 GPS modules into the phone and have it talk "your" protocol over a shared bus. The only thing that differs is the battery but - again - if you want it modular and replaceable, made the battery module be "charges from 5v, provides 3.3v" and put regulators in the module so it doesn't matter what battery you use.

    It would be slightly chunkier than a new phone. Modules would replaceable AND upgradeable. You'd be able to lock down cheap knock-off modules if you wanted to. You'd be able to move to an entirely new battery tech, GLONASS/Galileo chips, etc. with just a module change and (maybe) a software update.

    But if it's just going to be another throwaway phone in 4 years, I'm not sure why you'd bother at all to have any kind of niche phone.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      If you want to be green, the best option is to buy something well made and a bit over-specced, and to keep it for as long as possible. A vendor with a reputation for continuing software updates is a big plus too.

      Android and Apple alike, the most common points of failure are the screen (gravity and glass being what they are) and the battery. Beyond these, trying g to make cameras and silicon replaceable just introduce too many compromises (bulky unreliable connectors etc).

    2. Christian Berger Silver badge

      ARM cores != ARM SoC

      While ARM cores may be very compatible, the SoCs aren't. Even simple things like GPIOs and UARTs are different for every one, with the smallest difference being the port and interrupts they are on.

      Same goes for more essential things like clock trees. No two SoCs are alike, even if they share the same core.

      The best you can do is to put the SoC on a separate little board which can be replaced easily, but even then, every new SoC requires a seperate port of the OS.

  8. iron Silver badge

    Android 6.0?!?

    "Android 6.0... Delivery is promised by October 31st, 2017"

    Seriously? My two year old Samsung is on 7.0, there is no excuse for launching a new phone with a less than current OS. Makes me wonder if they provide OS updates for their existing models.

  9. AndyFl

    Batteries are always a problem for phones.

    For most products you can use a "standard" cell profile like 18650 (18 diameter by 65mm long) which gives a reasonable power density but this would be too thick for a modern cellphone. So you are stuck with pouch/prismatic cells which come in lots of different shapes and sizes all customised to a specific end product.

    Hence their issue with batteries, users expect a thin device without a big power bulge on the back.

    1. DainB Bronze badge

      Re: Batteries are always a problem for phones.

      It's not a problem of battery size, it's a problem of order size. If FP1 was sold in a millions and there was demand for a half a million batteries they would have a queue of battery manufacturers knocking at their door and competing on price.

      Which reminds me that couple of relative's Samsung flip phones which are so old that then don't even have year 2016 support in their firmware are still running fine off original 15 years old lithium batteries which do not seem suffered from any deterioration over these years.

      1. fishman

        Re: Batteries are always a problem for phones.

        "Which reminds me that couple of relative's Samsung flip phones which are so old that then don't even have year 2016 support in their firmware are still running fine off original 15 years old lithium batteries which do not seem suffered from any deterioration over these years."

        Batteries are killed by repeated deep discharges. Those old flip phones could go for a week + on a charge, so someone who rarely discharged the phone to 50% would end up having significantly less battery deterioration.

    2. Christian Berger Silver badge

      Re: Batteries are always a problem for phones.

      I don't fully follow your argument, as you can put the batteries in the hinge, however instead of 18650 batteries you can use those used for some old "feature phone" which was designed in the 1990s and still is being produced. For example I have a bluetooth GPS receiver which used the same battery as several Nokia phones.

  10. rayofsunshine

    ethical ratings for phones

    Ethical Consumer do a guide to handsets & ethics - http://www.ethicalconsumer.org/buyersguides/phonebroadband/mobilephones.aspx

    It's basic on the tech, but the three main areas of concern are worker rights, toxic chemicals and conflict minerals.

    Fairphone is unsurprisingly the 'ethical best buy' - and the general advice echoing a poster above is "...buy a second-hand or refurbished phone, wherever possible, to reduce your environmental impact."

    Part of the point of Fairphone is trying to create an example of an ethical supply chain for a tech product, and evidencing demand for it. From what I'm told by people who have them, v.1 was a bit crap, and v.2 is very good.

    [disclosure - I do a quite a bit of work with EC]

  11. Adam 52 Silver badge

    "to be able to buy spare parts upfront, so we can continue to have spare parts available for customers in the coming years."

    Not going to help with batteries, which have a shelf life.

    1. Updraft102 Silver badge

      In order for something to be repairable in a practical sense as well as just a technical one, there has to be a supply of parts, and hopefully not just from the manufacturer of the device. I've got a laptop I bought in 2008, and I've checked on price and availability for nearly every part in it a few times over the years. They're all available, readily and relatively cheaply, on eBay and elsewhere. I could easily build these laptops just by buying them in parts (though it would cost a lot more than it is worth as a unit-- hence "relatively" cheaply). My laptop was a mass-market model that the manufacturer sold in big numbers, so there are plenty of the parts now available from many sources. Enough of them were made that battery packs (externally removable-- who would have thought!) of recent (aftermarket) manufacture are still readily available too, though the quality may or may not be great. With something as important and potentially dangerous as a Li-ion battery, that's not trivial.

      That's one of the things I think about when I ponder what I would buy if I were to get a new laptop. Lots of them available, and a lot more cheaply than when I bought mine. Upgradability and repairability are important to me, more so than light weight or small size, but they're meaningless if the parts I want to install are not available or are too expensive. The example someone mentioned of a 200 pound screen on a 150 pound laptop... what's the point of that? That's if I can even find one that IS repairable anymore.

      In my case, I just ordered a new display for mine (takes me about ten or fifteen minutes to swap them; not a drop of glue anywhere in this one); the old one works but it has a yellowish dark spot apparently in the backlighting, and it bothers me, so I bought a used (maybe better, maybe not) LCD panel of the same model number for $12 (USD), shipping included. It's cheap enough that I am willing to roll the dice and see if it's better. Even if it's not, what's wrong with it will give me more information about what I need to look out for if I should order the same model of display yet again.

      Supposedly new LCD units for my lappy run about $50. Still not bad, if they are actually new.

      I hate planned obsolescence...

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