Early adopter vs pragmatic users
I am not a early adopter person. Based on the business definition I wait for the first customers to fight off some of the problems, to experiment and find the bugs and then, if there is a potential benefit for me, to buy the second generation of the new toys. Sometimes I even buy a second-hand toy if the price is justifiable (some subjectivity applies).
Forcing upgrades vs enlarging the pie
But what I loathe is to throw away devices/phones/tablets which still have some life to entertain or be of assistance in any way. And here comes one of my gripes with the companies creating electronic gadgets: it is very hard to pump some life in electronic gadgets after the next iteration comes along. In order to “nudge” the users to upgrade, companies like Apple, Samsung, Google, Microsoft are just sending the “old generations” gadgets on a dead-line/oblivion life. The post is coming as it was revealed Apple is slowing the old phones functionality in order to “nudge” the user to upgrade. Meanwhile, the iFixit company is asking companies to think about technical solutions (at design stage) in order to allow a “second life” of their products. The cost to upgrade/repair/fix is minimal but the impact on environment is significant, not mentioning the labor market it allows to prosper in developing countries. The ridiculous part of forcing the upgrade (or protecting against minor failures) is the new insurance fee some wireless companies are offering in case some minor parts are failing after one year warranty.
Pitfalls for easy repairs
The pledge might create problems as well, as you encounter shady companies who are selling electronic components pretending to be originals. The fake iPhones* are everywhere and seems to leak from manufacturers who are disposing defected batches of hardware components on the market without any concerns about the detrimental blows to the original products. On one hand Apple is not interested to police what is happening on the shady market of fake phones and is almost impossible to follow the hardware components at the suppliers level. The hardware suppliers are happy to get rid of defect batches and are not asking questions of where the components are flying with a much smaller price than the good ones.
Continuing on the same vein, I remember a famous article in Bloomberg Businessweek about Pentagon contractors delivering components salvaged from China and found that some of them are fake. Imagine a counterfeit component in military equipment !!
Open the software, if possible
In order to re-use those gadgets, the batteries, screens, keyboards, connectors should be easily replaceable and here comes the discussion opened by iFixit (that I strongly endorse): dear Apple, Samsung, LG and others, please consider the second life of your gadgets for customers who are not ready to spend $$$ for basic functions but will love to have a first encounter with mobile technology at a lower price. They could become your future customers in the years to come…
What I propose is to support a “second-life” for out-of-date gadgets, by allowing wisdom of crowds to bring more life (or even new features) to hardware components by altering the SOFTWARE side of them (or firmware in geek language). There are initiatives for different products out there and I will only enumerate some of them:
- OpenWRT – for wireless routers or other embedded devices
- Magic Lantern for Canon cameras
- for older Android phones or tablets please search on xda-developers website for new images to upgrade your phone to the new versions of the Android OS
There is a ripple effect on economy by making repairs accessible and opening software components running on them:
- less electronic waste
- developing skills to prolong the lifetime of electronic gadgets
- developing skills to adapt the software to local economies
- introduction to the eco-systems of each mobile software framework
- inclusion of more people in developing software/firmware for different markets which could flow back into new products
Instead of thinking from quarter to quarter (for financial results) the gadget companies should seek for a more inclusive market of their products by allowing easy replacements and supporting open source firmware.