Final week at iFixit we did a teardown of the Fairphone 4, which earned an exceedingly uncommon 10/10 on our repairability scale. Throughout that teardown, I used to be impressed with most of the choices the Fairphone design staff made. With restore laws across the nook in most markets around the globe (and already in impact in some locations like France) there has by no means been a greater time for smartphone makers to take just a few notes from Fairphone 4’s design, and this firm’s strategies. Listed below are some that caught out to me throughout our teardown.
#1 Make it modular
An important message I can relay to smartphone designers—and customers—is simply how essential modularity is to the longevity of any gadget. Modularity typically dictates whether or not a tool may be helpful for an additional 12 months or two, and the way effectively and successfully a tool may be recycled on the finish of its life.
A modular factor is one whose parts may be separated and changed individually, and the idea scales up and down with the dimensions of various gadgets. You in all probability take as a right the modularity of bigger on a regular basis issues, like vehicles or bikes. Think about needing to interchange your entire bike when the tires put on out, or pulling out the engine of a automotive to interchange a headlight.
Scale that idea right down to smartphones, and also you’re searching for modularity in essential parts to a tool’s performance, such because the display screen, cameras, ports, and battery. Fairphone 4 provides customers entry to all these parts and extra, in just some easy steps, requiring solely a Phillips screwdriver and their fingers.
#2 Maintain it easy
I emphasize utilizing solely their fingers and a Phillips screwdriver as a result of simplicity is a crucial a part of design for repairability. One thing modular however unnecessarily difficult to disassemble is typically simply as dangerous as not being modular in any respect.
An incredible instance of this kind of conundrum is Apple’s iPhone. Our iPhone 12 battery alternative information is a whopping 42 steps lengthy. It requires instruments for heating and chopping adhesive, 4 completely different screwdrivers, and includes eradicating unrelated parts across the battery. Anybody with restore expertise will inform you iPhones are among the many simpler smartphones to restore (they usually do usually earn as much as a 6/10 on our repairability scale), however present that information to most restore newcomers they usually’d doubtless let the Apple retailer deal with it.
And that’s the rub. A modular gadget whose restore procedures are overly difficult, is—you guessed it—much less more likely to be repaired, decreasing its helpful lifespan, and growing the complexity of the recycling course of on the finish of its life.
Evaluate that to a Fairphone 4 battery alternative, which doesn’t but have iFixit guides for an apples-to-apples comparability, however I can guarantee you it might be beneath 10 steps.
#3 Don’t concern the compromise
Smartphone design is inherently an train in compromise—you’re becoming as a lot know-how as a laptop computer has, or extra, into a skinny handheld slab.
Fairphone made some nice compromises once they constructed Fairphone 4, and it’s time for different firms to begin fascinated about the compromises they’ll make to create extra helpful however sustainable merchandise.
An important—and most controversial—compromise Fairphone 4 makes has to do with its ingress safety (a.ok.a. IP, or water and mud resistance). By aiming for a much less bold IP ranking, Fairphone avoids utilizing adhesive and as an alternative makes use of a mixture of clips and screws to carry their telephones collectively. This one compromise knocks 5–10 steps and an excessive amount of complexity off any restore.
That’s a giant win, nevertheless it comes at a price. IP certification is a spec many customers search for in a brand new smartphone, so a decrease IP ranking can put Fairphone at a drawback in a head-to-head comparability. Much less ingress safety additionally means the telephone is technically much less sturdy than, say, an iPhone. Right here I’ll level out that most individuals don’t want an IP68 licensed smartphone although; IP scores have change into, like many smartphone specs, one thing anticipated to solely ever go upwards. Fairphone 4’s IP54 ranking will preserve it secure from rain, unintentional splashes, and encounters with sand or mud.
That’s why I’m glad Fairphone made this compromise. IP54 isn’t good, nevertheless it’s begin, particularly given the repairability it allows. The smartphone business hasn’t discovered the candy spot for ingress safety but. Different devices which have been round longer are nearer to it: cameras and mechanical watches, for instance, each have extra transferring components than smartphones, but neither sometimes depends on adhesive to realize their IP scores (which, in some instances, are even larger than iPhones).
A number of different difficult choices make Fairphone 4 a compelling, repairable, sustainable smartphone: the kind of screws, the hard-shell Li-ion battery, processor and wi-fi chip choice, guarantee assist, and plenty of others. The final one I’ll spotlight right here is Fairphone’s selection to mix a few of their spare components.
#4 Mix with care
Combining components is a hot-button concern at iFixit. Bundling two or extra parts into one built-in “half” can increase the price of what would in any other case be a reasonable restore, and brought to an excessive, can change into the antithesis of modular design. Admittedly, we’re jaded by experiences with just a few dangerous actors through the years. For instance, Apple (not the one dangerous actor, however a straightforward one to make an instance of) has a latest historical past of constructing fragile cables into costly shows, and serializing parts inside their gadgets, then hiding behind software program bugs or paper-thin safety claims.
Finally, combining components is a tradeoff—while you combine a number of parts, you lose modularity, however (hopefully) achieve simplicity.
In Apple’s case, restore appears a distant consideration when combining (and serializing) components. Fairphone, however, has ably walked this line for the previous few years. Fairphone 3 was an nearly unbelievably modular gadget, with each element in its personal spot, straightforward to entry and take away by itself.
Fairphone 4 modifications up this components by combining a few of these components. Regardless of my inherent apprehension, it really works. By designing the mixed components to be additional disassembled when mandatory, and solely integrating with low-cost components just like the black antenna (proven above), they preserve spare half prices low. It’s a terrific compromise.
There are a variety of good issues to say about Fairphone 4. It was a deal with to take aside after an extended string of glued-shut gadgets this 12 months. It’s a disgrace so many firms launch merchandise with little or no thought of the place they may find yourself on the finish of their helpful life, or how lengthy that can take. I’m thrilled that Fairphone continues to buck that development, and I hope different firms begin to copy their homework.