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Innovation By Design

Tired Of Upgrading Your Phone? Fairphone Wants To Help

The socially responsible modular smartphone lets you replace components without buying a whole new device.

Tired Of Upgrading Your Phone? Fairphone Wants To Help

[Illustration: David Plunkert]

Amsterdam-based Fairphone designs devices that are meant to last. The Fairphone 2, released last December, has a modular design that makes it easy to replace the battery, screen, and other components. It’s part of a broader effort to make products that are socially and environmentally responsible. Fairphone cofounder Miquel Ballester lays out how his latest device improves on the smartphone status quo.

An Eco-Friendly Approach

Fairphone’s catalog of easy-to-install parts makes upgrades simple and affordable. Want the latest camera? Instead of buying a whole new phone, just swap in an updated photo unit. The Fairphone 2 also allows two SIM cards, so you can use separate personal and work numbers. "That has an immediate environmental benefit," says Ballester. "Instead of walking around with two devices, you have one."

Humane Factories

Before it started manufacturing the Fairphone 2, the company enlisted a Chinese NGO to assess the labor practices of its Suzhou-based manufacturing partner. As a result of the findings, Fairphone started a program to upgrade the plants (such as improving safety exits), convert many temp workers to full-time employees, and make other improvements.

Conflict-Free Components

Many smartphones contain minerals that are sourced from troubled countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, where mining often funds armed groups that brutalize civilians. Fairphone tries to ensure that the gold, tungsten, tin, and tantalum it buys is conflict free—without abandoning those countries by purchasing elsewhere. "We want to show that it is possible to source from these high-risk areas, but in a better way," says Baluster.

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