Can gadgets be ‘organic’?

It’s now easier than ever to buy organic food. But what about gadgets? How can we make sure the technological products we choose have minimal impact on the environment, and on others? Whilst no “organic” labels yet exist, there are options. Here are a few.

capture d_écran 2019-01-30 à 08.23.35Fairphone: heart in the right place

Fairphone, a company founded in Holland in 2013 with the aim of making responsible smartphones, has just released its second ever model, the Fairphone 2 (top photo). Recyclable and easy to repair (albeit maybe not with blue nail varnish), Fairphones’ components are above all responsibly sourced. A must when you consider that many of smartphones’ key ingredients are “conflict minerals”, including gold, around which wars regularly erupt in countries like the Congo; or that Indium, the element used to make screens tactile, is due to run out in 20 years (source).

Fairphones also claim to be long-lasting, to counter the fact that most of us replace our smartphones every 18 months, causing waste and/or pollution. As such, all of their phones’ parts, from screen to camera, are easily replaceable, and ultimately upgradeable. Unfortunately, however, this modular aspect makes the Fairphone seem less sturdy than other smartphones. Furthermore, its elevated plastic frame makes usability a problem, as does its use of a not-very-recent version of Android, which is incompatible with Instagram, for example. But considering both of the Fairphone 2’s cameras are below current quality standards, you won’t be ‘gramming much anyway.

So unfortunately, as laudable as Fairphone’s ethics are, these principles have yet to result in a phone that’s especially pleasant to use. Like carrying home your organic vegetables without a bag, you’ll need to make some concessions to be true to your principles. Yet those who don’t need iPhone-level performance, would like a long-lasting, easy-to-repair device and don’t want to break the bank (Fairphone 2 currently costs just €400) will be more than happy.

Furthermore, the company’s very existence should spur Apple and co to think twice about how they make their phones, and above all why they’re not built to last…

 

oneplus6t

Apple, OnePlus and programmed obsolescence

…especially as Apple has already been caught trying to limit its phones’ lifespans. Late 2017, the manufacturer was called out by French association HOP for throttling iPhones’ batteries after a certain age, which slows down their performance to the point you think you need a new one. As programmed obsolescence is illegal in France, Apple had to cave, and offered cut-rate battery replacements, worldwide. Up to 11 million of them, according to this report. So much so that CEO Tim Cook blamed the programme for late 2018’s slower iPhone sales! Proof, if proof be need be, that the maker of the world’s most desirable smartphones takes for granted our desire to replace our phones every year.

Fascinatingly, as Apple continues to throttle iPhone batteries despite the 2017 scandal, an increasing number of tech firms are now using “anti-programmed obsolescence” as a sales argument. OnePlus, for example – a small but rapidly-growing rival to Apple – proudly asserts that all of its phones, like its most recent, the 6T (above) are supported by three years of software updates, and that its fans regularly cite their phones’ durability as a key reason to buy them in the first place. Could change be afoot in the phone business?

 

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No shame in second-hand phones… or computers

It could well be, based on the recent boom in a related field: recycled phones, and other gadgets. E-commerce sites for buying and selling used phones, like Backmarket or Certideal, are currently popping up like mushrooms. Even French mobile operator Bouygues Telecom has got on board, with Recommerce, a circular economy-focused site for smartphones. Yet another actor with a vested interest in selling new phones going against the grain. A further sign of change in store?

There’s also a resurgence in getting gadgets fixed rather than repaired, especially if you consider Apple’s MacBooks are now way flimsier than their precedessors. Their keyboards inparticular have provoked countless angry responses, to the point where spending a few hundred euros to repair an 8 year-old (chunky) MacBook rather than spend a grand and a half on a new (flimsy) one makes far more sense. That’s exactly what yours truly did. Yes indeed, BetterTech is brought to you on an ancient, twice-repaired Apple computer (above). Living the dream!

 

shadow ghost

Beyond phones: the virtual PC

Like OnePlus, virtual PC company Shadow also uses “anti-programmed obsolescence” as a sales pitch; this time, backed up by virtual proof. If, as Shadow proposes, you can access the service of having a top-notch PC via the cloud, through any device, then you don’t need to buy all of said PC’s components yourself. Nor, insist Shadow, do you need to invest in the latest graphics card when yours becomes outdated in two years’ time; they do it for you. If you can pay around €35 a month, and have a device to access your virtual computer on (even a TV will do if you buy Shadow’s latest set-top box, Ghost, above, which costs €80).

You do the maths: as a Shadow spokesperson told us, you can either pay €2000 for a high-end PC which will be outdated in four years’ time; or pay the same amount for a computer which will never be outdated, and won’t take up space in your bedroom. Okay, Shadow has to buy the components for your virtual PC, so it’s moving the problem elsewhere rather than solving it. But with 50,000 paying subscribers to date and €65 million in funding raised so far, this French startup could be on to something.

 

So, when are you moving on to organic gadgets? 🙂

 

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