Fairphone lessons (Re: Shiftphones details)

Bernhard E. Reiter bernhard at fsfe.org
Tue May 14 06:52:29 UTC 2019

Am Freitag 10 Mai 2019 17:06:40 schrieb Paul Boddie:
> it surprises me that they have not managed to
> attract broader publicity.

Shiftphones seem to focus on Germany (or German speaking companies).
It is a significant invest to create text and give support in a second 

> My understanding (and recollection) is that Fairphone fell into the same
> "original design manufacturer" trap that lots of people do. Now, most
> vendors do not care about the lack of longevity of the thing that they have
> procured: they can always sell or give an unhappy customer the next thing
> coming out of the factory.

In my perception Fairphone aimed for an improvement in longevity of their 
product and were successful. The Fairphone 2 was produced and on sale for 
about 30 something month.

> a Free Software initiative would
> have encountered software sustainability issues at the first hurdle, giving
> them the opportunity to back up and choose a different approach.

When trying to get a product out of the doors, you face a large number of 
small and larger decisions. First of all, the product has to "work" for the 
expected usage. Fairphone 1 was good in this regard, but Fairphone 2 a bit 
less so. Backing up and taking more time may have not been possible, without 
risking to not have a product at all. Which would have been the worst result.
So to me your criticism is too harsh. After all they produced two phones that 
were significant steps forward.

If we had more manufactures trying to go in the Fairphone direction, it would 
foster much more Free Software usages on mobile devices. It is fine to point 
out how they could do better, but I think we should even more applaude them 
for the advances.

> Naturally, the whole mobile industry suffers from these issues, too: it is
> like the Wintel upgrade treadmill turbo-upgraded for the 21st century. As
> software practitioners, we should be looking to offer real solutions for
> this. 

I agree, thought we first must understand the real reasons behind fast 
upgrades. Some customers are very happy about a new model each year and 
they'll buy it.

> Why shouldn't my next phone be usable, even in a modest sense, for as 
> long as my current one, which is actually fifteen years old?

One thing is technical progress, there is 5G coming and at some point you'll 
may need a phone that uses the standard. Another example there are websites 
or services that you would want to use, that only run with hardware and 
software that is newer. 

> where the people trying to make
> such phones are outsiders and are not part of the manufacturer ecosystem,
> with its convenient and cheap access to knowledge and technical resources,
> and so on. And getting access to the right people to solve problems is
> difficult given the low volumes and outsider status of such initiatives.

What I've heard from the OpenMoko project and others is that you cannot get 
the top line of SOCs from manufactures in small numbers. Something like 
you'll have to buy 10.000 at least and then put the money down up-front.
Knownn the right people won't help with that.

> I was actually surprised in my review of available phones that Fairphone 2
> is now no longer available, although factory-refurbished ones can be
> obtained for a discount.

This is a recent development (in the last weeks).
Probably a good one, a Fairphone 3 is needed for a while now.

> What might have been interesting is if the modular 
> technology had been popularised, shared, standardised, and so on, so that
> others could have made upgrades and continued the general availability of
> the product.

You know that all this would have meant significant efforts and Fairphone is a 
small company (in a growth phase, with all the pain coming with it).
At least they have shown that it works and there is a market for it (even when 
small). This is a large archievement.

Best Regards,

FSFE -- Founding Member     Support our work for Free Software: 
blogs.fsfe.org/bernhard     https://fsfe.org/donate | contribute
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