This idea rears an ugly head every now and then. On the surface, it’s actually plausible for a variety of reasons. The reality is far different and there are plenty of examples why this just won’t fly.
What won’t fly? Modular iPhones. You know, iPhones with modular parts that you can swap out for new parts or upgrade to faster or better parts. Didn’t Google has something like that going on a few years ago? How’d that turn out? So well I can’t remember what it was. Here’s another one.
Dutch Be Happy
Four years ago a Dutch smartphone company came up with a great idea. Fair trade components. I’m not sure what that means but it didn’t make many headlines in the technology industry and their next great idea won’t either and didn’t generate much noise when it surfaced a few years ago.
The company is called Fairphone which made something of an unknown name for itself with a crowdfunded smartphone using fair trade and conflict-free components stuffed into a somewhat standard, Android-based smartphone. They sold more than 60,000 devices. Apple sells about 550,000 iPhones per day.
Fairphone’s second model came out a few years ago and contained components that could be swapped out. No technical skills required. Pop it open, pull out a part, put in a new part, close the case. Call your mom.
Not to be intimidated by the pace of advancing technology, Fairphone’s most recent project is even more modular. It’s upgradeable. That’s right. Don’t like the fuzzy photos from that anemic 8MP camera? Upgrade to a 12MP camera. I can haz screwdriver.
Seriously. That’s all you need.
Don’t you want Apple to incorporate upgradeable components into future iPhones? Forget running down to the Apple Store to turn in your old iPhone on the iPhone Upgrade Program and then leaving the store with a brand new iPhone in your hand.
Just upgrade the parts. Parts is parts.
Let’s see. Hmmm. There’s glass in iPhone 8 and iPhone X. That would be nice to swap out when it gets cracked, right? Camera? Tired of photos that look as if they were taken by a DSLR? Upgrade to a Red-killer lens kit. Like Ollo. Battery getting old? Swap it out for one that will last for a week on a five minute charge.
Here’s the problem Fairphone ran into and why this idea is dead on arrival. Parts. Parts change every year in the iPhone. The case may look and feel the same, but everything inside changed from last year and likely will change again next year when Face ID and OLED displays and new cameras go downstream to iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus.
Components in electronic devices change so fast these days that it’s impossible for brain dead ideas to keep up. It sounds good to have a warehouse full of upgrade parts, but in a year, those parts are better suited for upgrading the Smithsonian. It’s not just that the technology industry changes too fast for such an idea, smartphone owners don’t want to bother with a screwdriver or to keep up with component changes.
Here’s my old iPhone, give me a new iPhone. For now, there is no other viable method to market with smartphones. Seemingly good and plausible ideas come and go. This one never went. Yes, I understand the issue about the environmental footprint of electronic recycling, but think about it. Android smartphones last a year or two and for many reasons need to be upgraded. In general, iPhones last longer and are fully recyclable (take it back to Apple), partly thanks to annual iOS upgrades which actually improve an iPhone each year for five years or so.