Fairphone, the Dutch-based company that develops cellphones using fair trade and working conditions, while favoring the device’s longevity over trailblazing technology, is shipping its latest phone next week with hopes of expanding its presence in the smartphone market.
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The phone went on pre-sale in Europe with a suggested retail price of €450, or just shy of $500, according to Fairphone’s website and will ship to buyers on September 3.
One of the big selling points of the phone revolves around the modular headset’s user-friendly hardware that makes for an easy self-repair whenever something breaks, with Fairphone selling replacement parts on their website. Buying replacement phones every two years is no longer a foregone conclusion.
Another big difference between market standards like the iPhone and the Android-based Galaxy and the Fairphone -- which has an Android 9 processor preloaded right out of the box, is in its name. The brand touts itself as a fair trade entity with fair working conditions, where the company’s trailblazing efforts are more centered to distinguish itself from the rest of the smartphone industry.
“We developed the Fairphone 3 to be a real sustainable alternative on the market, which is a big step towards lasting change. By establishing a market for ethical products, we want to motivate the entire industry to act more responsibly since we cannot achieve this change alone,” CEO Eva Gouwens said on the Fairphone website.
“We envision an economy where consideration for people and the planet is a natural part of doing business and according to this vision, we have created scalable ways to improve our supply chain and product,” she added.
Since the startup’s inception in 2013, the focus of the company has been to utilize fair working conditions, while remaining more transparent over the sources of their materials, with 80% of the Fairphone 3’s volume being made of recycled material, according to founder and former CEO Bas van Abel.
The phone itself is assembled by Taiwanese manufacturer Arima, which Fairphone credits with improving "employee satisfaction by improving worker representation, health and safety and by paying a bonus to workers with the aim to bridge the gap between minimum and living wages in the factory.”
The Arima workers are given a bonus by Fairphone based on increased performance around its quota goals, a stark contrast to industry-standards where punishment and or long hours are not uncommon to make up for production shortcomings. Fairphone believes its approach supports good worker morale and supports employee rights.
Despite the ecological and worker-friendly efforts of Fairphone, the concept of a fair trade smartphone remains a niche market, representing only 0.1 percent of the Western European smartphone market. However, Fairphone is optimistic that appealing to a consumer’s conscience will ultimately pay off over the next few years.
“(The market is) growing at high speed,” van Abel recently told TechCrunch, citing growth in the company’s funding due to the increasing popularity of impact investing. “I do believe it’s very feasible for Fairphone to [ship 200,000 smartphones per year] in the next couple of years,” adding “We can address a small part of the conscious consuming market.”
“I think Fairphone has developed itself — even though it’s called Fairphone — into a brand that I’m pretty sure can go into a full-blown, sustainable, consumer electronics brand. Because there are none.”
Whether or not Fairphone can break the consumer cycle of upgrading phones every couple of years remains to be seen, and the do-it-yourself style of maintaining and repairing the device may seem off-putting to some of the less-motivated smartphone consumers.
However, van Abel’s confidence in the Fairphone 3’s European release is unwavering, emphasizing the fact that smartphone longevity will become a vital selling-point for the brand.
“I’m pretty hopeful because [humans have] been pretty successful at selling people stuff they don’t need so I’m pretty sure that we can also reverse that into marketing stories around products that last longer and people wanting products to last longer,” van Abel said.
Fairphone and van Abel are not the only ones banking on consumers changing spending habits when it comes to buying smartphones. Industry insider John Anon of Android Headlines spoke to Fox Business Network and believes there is an appeal for a fair trade phone that will last longer than a few years and that promotes sustainability in the smartphone market.
"Consumers already appear to be changing their smartphone purchase habits to some degree. This is partly due to the perception that smartphones are continually escalating in price and partly due to a greater understanding of the waste generated by the electronics sector," Anon wrote in an email to Fox Business. "In other words, consumers are already adopting a sustainable attitude toward their purchases. They now expect their new smartphone to last longer than ever before," wrote Anon, "The idea that a phone will last longer than usual is no longer a niche market."
But Anon did highlight that a market for such sustainable phones will likely remain small until they become more price-accessible.
"There’s probably a market for anything that’s sustainable," he added. "Whether that market will ever out-perform the needs for affordable phones, and soon, is another question. Price is one of the biggest driving factors in the industry at the moment and unless sustainable phones become price-accessible, a market for products where sustainability is a main feature might remain low -- for now."
The Fairphone 3 specs include a 5.7-inch full-HD screen, a fingerprint reader on board, with 4G capabilities, with the device sporting a Snapdragon 632 engine, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage that’s expandable through an SD card.