Smartphone evolution is moving at a phenomenal pace.
Our demand for this new technology is also growing. Some statistics on the Internet show that the average lifespan of a mobile phone in the US is only 18 months. After all, emerging technologies are at our fingertips. We live in a world where technology is evolving rapidly and it seems something new and improved is released every few months.
Take the iPhone for example, after its initial release in 2007, this smartphone is already in its sixth generation of evolution. The latest smartphones have better camera quality, more storage and longer battery power. They have greater functionality to allow users to more easily consume and create content, as well as connect with other people in more accessible ways. The constant upgrading of technology seems to both meet and feed consumer demand for the ’next best thing’.
The latest iPhone, the iPhone 5s is “…not just what’s next. But what should be next” and Samsung recently released the Galaxy S4, marketed as a ‘Life Companion’ to “make your life simpler, richer and more fun”. So, not only are we buying smartphones that are more water and dust resistant than ever before, we are also purchasing ‘friendship’ and something that will make our lives better.
Wow! Who wouldn’t want that!
However, as soon as we’ve purchased the latest life changing mobile handset, something new pops its head around the corner that promises to make our lives even more fulfilling. As compelling as this allure for instant companionship and a better life is, upgrading a smartphone can be an expensive exercise. Both in terms of personal spending and the cost to our environment.
Most of our discarded smartphones end up in landfill and not many actually get recycled. Those that do usually go to developing countries for recycling and many of these existing smartphones can be difficult to repair and recycle, leading to sometimes dangerous recycling practices. Nevertheless, bits and pieces from some of these phones are sold into the commodities market to be reused into something else. Otherwise, phones still deemed fit for use can be refurbished and sold back into a thriving secondary market. Both options are better than e-waste going into landfill. However, our growing consumption of mobile technology and the by-product that becomes e-waste, is now excessive. According to Gartner (2013) “Worldwide mobile phone sales to end users totalled 455.6 million units in the third quarter of 2013”. That’s a lot of phones! And as a consequence, a lot of waste…
So, what if there was an affordable phone worth keeping? One that we could repair easily and upgrade with less cost and less waste?
A number of people and organisations are currently working on ideas for the next best smartphone, to address both the growing environmental issue of e-waste and the cost of upgrading entire mobile units. Many companies are also increasingly developing technologies with the principles of ‘Designing For Recycling’ (DFR) in mind.
Google recently launched Project Ara that aims to develop a free open hardware platform for creating highly module smartphones. The project’s Module Developers kit gives developers around the world an opportunity to contribute ideas to the modular design. The intention is that the phone is basically a skeleton that a user can customise with modules based on personal requirements. If one module needs replacing, simply replace or upgrade with another module without impacting on any of the other phone’s components.
Google is said to be working collaboratively with Dutch designer Dave Hakkens on his Phonebloks idea which is similar in concept:
Another player in the smartphone market, ZTE, is also prototyping a modular smartphone that allows users to easily upgrade their hardware.
So are we heading for a future where we replace and upgrade functions, not phones? Where we custom build our devices with lego-like pieces and save on cost and create less waste? Will our schools and students be able to create personalised functionality quickly, easily, and with less money, so that when learning requirements change we are able to match our devices to be fit for purpose?
It’s an exciting prospect. Let’s wait and see.
More information on Project Ara here:
(2013). Average Life of US Mobile Phone is 18 Months – AppNewser. Retrieved May 6, 2014, fromhttp://www.mediabistro.com/appnewser/33775_b33775.
(2013). Apple – iPhone 5s. Retrieved May 6, 2014, fromhttp://www.apple.com/nz/iphone-5s/.
(2013). Samsung GALAXY S4 Smart Phone GT-I9505ZKANZC GT … Retrieved May 6, 2014, fromhttp://www.samsung.com/nz/consumer/mobile-phone/mobile-phone/smartphone/GT-I9505ZKANZC.
(2014). Vangel Shredding and RecyclingElectronic Waste … Retrieved May 6, 2014, fromhttp://vangelinc.com/recycling/the-state-of-escrap-recycling.
(2010). Mobile phone recycling – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved May 6, 2014, fromhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mobile_phone_recycling.
Jessica Dolcourt (2014). Your smartphone's secret afterlife (Smartphones Unlocked … Retrieved May 6, 2014, fromhttp://www.cnet.com/news/your-smartphones-secret-afterlife-smartphones-unlocked/.
(2013). Gartner Says Smartphone Sales Accounted for 55 Percent … Retrieved May 6, 2014, fromhttp://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/2623415.
Design for Recycling – Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries. Retrieved May 6, 2014, fromhttp://www.isri.org/about-isri/awards/design-for-recycling.