It could be chip technology for computers, but the industry's endless upgrades come with costs. Smartphone owners are eager to get their hands on improved performance, speedier, and shinier versions of their devices but are unsure about the news coming. Equipment manufacturers and analysts are warning that the global supply of chip supplies is poised to impact the mobile industry. This means more wait times and higher prices.
Despite the seeming insurmountable Apple acknowledged in the recent earnings calls that growth rates could slow in the coming period, in part due to components shortages that result in a long time to deliver and making it more challenging to keep up with the ever-growing consumer demand for iPhones.
Consumer electronics have been scarce for some time and have impacted industries from automobile manufacturing to banking, and there is no ending in sight. In addition, with the smartphone sales set to grow exponentially over the next 12 months and the challenge to secure chips set to be a significant issue for the biggest tech companies such as Apple and Samsung.
However, for Wayne Huang, vice president of production operations at the sustainable phone maker Fairphone the current supply of smartphones is the manifestation of a root issue: the smartphone market is too excessive.
This entices users to change their gadgets frequently because they want the best technology within their pockets.
Smartphone market trends, Source: Proreviewsapp
The introduction of Apple's 5G-capable iPhone 12 at the end of the year has prompted many regular customers to charge their phones. This trend is now spreading to the rest of the market Tech analyst firm Gartner has discovered that worldwide smartphone sales increased by 26% at the beginning of 2021 when compared to the same period in 2018 and that the demand for handhelds will continue to grow over the coming months, in what analysts call an iPhone "supercycle."
However, the "supercycle" is not a unique phenomenon. Smartphones are replaced every three years in a nation similar to the USA. There is a chance that one billion mobile phones are sold each year around the globe.
It's not surprising, therefore, that smartphone makers will likely be severely impacted when some components are not functioning correctly. Although the primary problem is computers, the shortages of elements are likely to extend to other members, too. Smartphones are also comprised of materials and metals ranging from arsenic to gold. According to recent research conducted by the Royal Society of Chemistry, six of the essential components needed for smartphones will be depleted within about 100 years.
These numbers are only a hint of the massive resource that the current pace of smartphone use requires and their environmental impact that is not sustainable. Analysts believe that the annual carbon footprint from manufacturing mobile phones is the carbon emissions per year of a small nation.
Even more disturbingly, upgrading usually involves throwing away older models that typically end up in the trash. It is reported that the World Economic Forum (WEF) states that smartphones account for about 10% of the world's electronic waste or approximately 50 million tons or, to put things in perspective, 300,000 double-decker buses.
As Huang says, Fairphone's solution to this issue is simple: to stop what Fairphone considers to be unneeded upgrades.
Contrary to its larger rivals, the Netherlands-based company has established an impression through a unique strategy to manufacturing smartphones. Instead of launching new models each year, Fairphone keeps the possibility of a long time between each generation of smartphones that Fairphone makes. In 2013, since the first Fairphone handset was launched, only four handset variations have been released.
"The way we approach it is to create to have more time in our development process," says Huang. "We devote a significant amount of time on the initial concept of our product, and then we launch the new product after we've established the goals we'd like to achieve in terms of impact."
Do you need to upgrade your phone? 6 Minute English, Source" Youtube, BBC Learning English
Also, Fairphone's designers do not launch new phones unless there's some reason that warrants upgrading. The most recent Fairphone 3+, for instance, has improved cameras specifications in comparison to Fairphone 3 - which was launched in 2019 and only because Fairphone's designers had worked out how to create less environmental impact when compared to the Fairphone 2 in 2016. Fairphone 2.
The main focus of the company's efforts is to let users keep their smartphones to the maximum extent they can. This is why Fairphone offers developed a modular approach to design for smartphones. From the battery to the headphone socket, there are seven main phone components. These components can replace to make their phone last longer instead of purchasing a brand new one at the sign of a cracked or damaged screen.
Customers also have the option to upgrade their phones to a new model. The Fairphone 3+ camera, for example, can be purchased as a module at EUR60 ($71) to allow those who are handier to install themselves on their old phones.
In addition, as a company that depends heavily on Android software updates, Fairphone is committing to working to support software for five years. Consequently, people who bought the Fairphone 2 in 2016 were receiving updates to Android 9 this year.
Of course, it's not the only one to fly the sustainability flag. The industry, in general, did not wait until the worldwide shortage of chips to recognize the extent of resource-intensive smartphone manufacturing.
Numerous equipment makers have created recycling programs to improve their eco-friendly reputation, encouraging customers to donate their old phones to recycling centers specifically designed for this purpose or urging users to swap in their phones for credit towards the next purchase.
Apple has even commissioned the robot Daisy that rapidly disassembles iPhones to cut off parts that can be reused from those destined for the landfill. Apple announced in 2018 that it had helped to divert over 48,000 tons of electronic garbage from landfills.
The hidden impact of the smartphone industry, Source: Youtube, Fairphone
Recycling programs are essential; however, they're not the ideal solution to solve the growing carbon footprint issue, says Matthew Cockerill, a consultant in strategic design who was previously involved in the launch of Fairphone's first phone.
"A large portion of the emphasis these days is recycling, but when you keep your items for twice the time you usually do, it reduces the amount of inlays," Cockerill tells ZDNet. "More productive than recycling than to ensure that we are able to continue using parts instead of discarding our items and creating completely brand new products."
Smartphones contribute between 85 to 90% of carbon emissions during the manufacturing phase. A recent study by the advocacy group for right-to-repair called The Re-start Project recently found that an increase in the life span of the smartphone to 33% can reduce annual emissions equal to the yearly emissions emitted by the entire nation that is Ireland.
To make the argument more convincing, recycling efforts are far from being significant enough compared to the size of the issue. In the year 2019, the recycling rate for electronics was just 17%, which means that companies are putting more gadgets into the market that they are bringing into.
Apple's Daisy, for instance, has a couple of million devices per year, which is not nearly as many smartphones available at the same time.
The concept, however, involves driving demand for new products down, which is fundamentally opposed to the majority of industries' business models that are based on maintaining order and periodic upgrade cycles to convince customers to buy their gadgets.
A more difficult problem is convincing customers themselves. "It is necessary to view our products as belonging to us for a longer period of time, which isn't easy since we all love purchasing new items," says Cockerill. "Will we accept buying a product that can last for 10 years and be identical?"
What’s a smartphone made of? - Kim Preshoff, Source: Youtube, TED-Ed
In this case, users should begin thinking about their phones the same way they see items that have ceased receiving regular upgrades, such as microwaves, refrigerators, or toasters.
The issue is that most users currently prefer to use the most recent technology about phones. For Fairphone's Huang, it could take some time before the mentality shifts, let alone before consumers are convinced to put a large sum of money on an item that won't update for five or more time.
"There is an increase in consciousness about the environment among consumers; however, as a company, the issue is how to translate the awareness into a purchase choice," says Huang. "It is straightforward to spend EUR20 for a T-shirt made of sustainably grown cotton, but you're paying EUR450 for Fairphone 3. Fairphone 3.
"This is the reason why we have to make it simpler for users to make their devices more attractive, in order to allow us to beat the industrial design as well as in the tech specs."
Fairphone is a relatively small manufacturer of equipment that isn't far from competing with giants such as Apple, Samsung, or Huawei However; the company hopes that the current supply of chips will cause users to reconsider the broader industry's poor practices.
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