Want an ethical smartphone? Fairphone 3 is on the way – but tiny market share suggests few care

'A more ethical, reliable and sustainable phone' – but is anyone buying?

Fairphone, whose devices are designed to be sustainable and made in exploitation-free factories, will kick out its third unit in mid-September, priced at €450.00 including VAT.

The business, which describes itself as a social enterprise, is based in Amsterdam in the Netherlands and has 70+ employees around the world. Its approach is based on fairness in the supply chain – avoiding conflict minerals (minerals mined in the context of armed conflict or human rights abuse), using suppliers where workers are treated fairly, and sourcing from Fairtrade certified companies, designing for repairability and long life, and using recycled materials where possible.

The first Fairphone was released in 2013 and sold around 60,000 units. FairPhone 2 followed in 2015 and featured a modular design, to improve repairability and enable upgrades, though in practice the only upgraded module to be released was for the camera. The repairability benefit was real though, and teardown site iFixit awarded the device a repairability score of 10 out of 10 – in contrast to, say, the Samsung Galaxy S10, which scores 3, or a score of 6 for an Apple iPhone XR. Fairphone 2 sold over 40,000 units, and the business reported selling the last of its stock in April 2019.

That was more than Google achieved for its own modular phone, Project Ara, which was cancelled before anything was launched.

In the case of the Fairphone 2, the company published a list of all its 103 suppliers, including information where possible on smelters and refiners involved in the supply chain. The latter were audited for conformance with RMAP (Responsible Minerals Assurance Process).

Fairphone 3 runs Android 9 Pie and has a decent specification:

  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 632 with 64-bit processor, speed up to 2.2 GHz, and Adreno 506 GPU
  • 4GB RAM and 64GB storage. MicroSD card
  • 5.65" screen, 2160x 1080 Full HD+ resolution
  • 12MP rear and 8MP front camera
  • Dual SIM with 4G (LTE)
  • Fingerprint scanner
  • 3.5mm headphone socket
  • Screwdriver for self-repairs

What you are really paying for, though, is the ethical approach. There is up to €40 cashback for grabs for recycling your old phone. No charger, earphones or USB C cable is included, on the basis that you can likely reuse what you already have; if not, you can purchase these separately.

Despite these worthy objectives, Fairphone's success to date is modest. The company has sold over 100,000 devices, but Samsung ships around 75 million smartphones every quarter and the total mobile phone market is over 1.5 billion annually.

This does not mean that Fairphone is not making any impact; but does suggest that its work is more about demonstrating an alternative approach and putting pressure on industry leaders than about the difference made by the mobile devices themselves.

It appears that for the majority of people and businesses, concerns about sustainable design are some way down the list of priorities when sourcing new devices. Another way to put this is that it is regulation rather than consumer choice that has the most impact on sustainability.

That said, the fact that Fairphone has survived six years and gets to launch a new phone is at least a crumb of comfort. ®

Other stories you might like

  • Prisons transcribe private phone calls with inmates using speech-to-text AI

    Plus: A drug designed by machine learning algorithms to treat liver disease reaches human clinical trials and more

    In brief Prisons around the US are installing AI speech-to-text models to automatically transcribe conversations with inmates during their phone calls.

    A series of contracts and emails from eight different states revealed how Verus, an AI application developed by LEO Technologies and based on a speech-to-text system offered by Amazon, was used to eavesdrop on prisoners’ phone calls.

    In a sales pitch, LEO’s CEO James Sexton told officials working for a jail in Cook County, Illinois, that one of its customers in Calhoun County, Alabama, uses the software to protect prisons from getting sued, according to an investigation by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

    Continue reading
  • Battlefield 2042: Please don't be the death knell of the franchise, please don't be the death knell of the franchise

    Another terrible launch, but DICE is already working on improvements

    The RPG Greetings, traveller, and welcome back to The Register Plays Games, our monthly gaming column. Since the last edition on New World, we hit level cap and the "endgame". Around this time, item duping exploits became rife and every attempt Amazon Games made to fix it just broke something else. The post-level 60 "watermark" system for gear drops is also infuriating and tedious, but not something we were able to address in the column. So bear these things in mind if you were ever tempted. On that note, it's time to look at another newly released shit show – Battlefield 2042.

    I wanted to love Battlefield 2042, I really did. After the bum note of the first-person shooter (FPS) franchise's return to Second World War theatres with Battlefield V (2018), I stupidly assumed the next entry from EA-owned Swedish developer DICE would be a return to form. I was wrong.

    The multiplayer military FPS market is dominated by two forces: Activision's Call of Duty (COD) series and EA's Battlefield. Fans of each franchise are loyal to the point of zealotry with little crossover between player bases. Here's where I stand: COD jumped the shark with Modern Warfare 2 in 2009. It's flip-flopped from WW2 to present-day combat and back again, tried sci-fi, and even the Battle Royale trend with the free-to-play Call of Duty: Warzone (2020), which has been thoroughly ruined by hackers and developer inaction.

    Continue reading
  • American diplomats' iPhones reportedly compromised by NSO Group intrusion software

    Reuters claims nine State Department employees outside the US had their devices hacked

    The Apple iPhones of at least nine US State Department officials were compromised by an unidentified entity using NSO Group's Pegasus spyware, according to a report published Friday by Reuters.

    NSO Group in an email to The Register said it has blocked an unnamed customers' access to its system upon receiving an inquiry about the incident but has yet to confirm whether its software was involved.

    "Once the inquiry was received, and before any investigation under our compliance policy, we have decided to immediately terminate relevant customers’ access to the system, due to the severity of the allegations," an NSO spokesperson told The Register in an email. "To this point, we haven’t received any information nor the phone numbers, nor any indication that NSO’s tools were used in this case."

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021