Battery woes drive ethical phone obsolescence

Battery woes drive ethical phone obsolescence
Business news |
Dutch ethical phone developer Fairphone has stopped support for its first model after problems sourcing replacement parts. As a result it has also stopped software support.
By Nick Flaherty

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The Fairphone 1 was designed to use chips made from conflict-free materials and be repairable and was launched in 2013 after a crowdfunding appeal. The company can no longer source spare parts, particularly the battery, and so has stopped support.

“Practically speaking, this means that we will no longer sell spare parts for the Fairphone 1, and have stopped developing the software upgrade to Android 4.4,” said Bas van Abel, founder of the Amsterdam-based company, 

“Personally and professionally, this was a bittersweet decision. The Fairphone 1 was our baby – the very first product we launched into the wider world – and we wanted to see it succeed for as long as possible. However, after supporting the Fairphone 1 for three and a half years and the Fairphone 1U for nearly two and a half years, we’ve simply reached the point where it is no longer possible to keep supporting our first phone.”

“It is now clear that we can’t keep spending resources on finding new options and loopholes,” he said. “While we were producing the Fairphone 1, our manufacturing partner Guohong was managing most of the supply chain. After some time, they stopped producing phones altogether and our relationship with them ended. We had to contact the individual spare parts suppliers to ask them to produce extra batches for us. We ordered a certain amount of spare parts based on an estimate of the number of parts we would need in the near future, as well as the financial resources that were available at the time.

“But over the years, due to the fast pace of change in the electronics industry, most of the original Fairphone 1 spare parts have now been retired by our suppliers. In other words, the parts we need no longer exist. We’ve worked continuously to find new suppliers and convince them to keep making the parts – for example, we’ve worked with two different manufacturers to try to keep batteries in stock. However, after exploring every option within our financial means, the minimum orders required to produce new batches of spare parts is beyond what we can afford.”

“We’ve learned very valuable lessons from our Fairphone 1 spare parts challenges that will help shape our approach going forward. One concrete step is generating more working capital to be able to buy spare parts upfront, so we can continue to have spare parts available for customers in the coming years,” he said. “Another step is to improve our planning and estimates to ensure our supply of Fairphone 2 spare parts meets the demand. After running low on stock in recent months, we are using the limited stock of displays we have to help as many customers as we can who contact customer support. Further, we plan to have all spare parts available in our online shop by the end of August.”

www.fairphone.com

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