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First Pixel Pass, now another brand is killing its phone subscription plan

Is it time to accept that sustainability is a hard sell in the smartphone market?
By

Published onMarch 7, 2024

TL;DR
  • Fairphone has announced the indefinite suspension of its subscription model, Fairphone Easy.
  • Fairphone Easy aimed to offer sustainable phone ownership by offering a monthly fee for all-inclusive repairs, replacements, and recycling.
  • Fairphone joins Google’s Pixel Pass in failing to gain traction, casting doubts about the viability of the phone-leasing model.

Fairphone, the Dutch phone manufacturer known for its focus on sustainability and repairability, has announced the indefinite suspension of its phone subscription service, Fairphone Easy.

Launched in 2022 as a pilot program in the Netherlands, Fairphone Easy offered users a way to access a Fairphone smartphone through a subscription model, with guaranteed repairs, replacements, and proper end-of-life recycling included. The program also incentivized users to hold onto their phones for longer, with decreasing subscription costs for existing customers. This longer lifespan aimed to reduce electronic waste, as Fairphone would refurbish and recycle returned devices at the end of their lease.

However, subscriber growth did not meet expectations. Fairphone acknowledges confusion around pricing models, with some users comparing the initial subscription cost to the one-time purchase price of the phone. While Fairphone attempted to educate consumers about the long-term benefits of leasing, they ultimately found a more significant hurdle — consumer preference.

“We came to the sad realization that people preferred to own their smartphones rather than renting them,” Fairphone admits in the blog post. Their research indicated users were five times more likely to buy a Fairphone than lease one. The reasons cited included privacy concerns and the emotional attachment users have to their smartphones. Additionally, the launch of the Fairphone 5 further complicated the subscription model, as users expressed a desire to upgrade quickly, which the program couldn’t readily accommodate.

While the Fairphone Easy program faltered, the company says it remains committed to its core values of sustainability and ethical production. The Fairphone 5 is currently available to buy in European markets, but its US launch and availability dates are still unknown.

Interestingly, this isn’t the first time a phone subscription service has struggled to gain traction. Google offered a similar program called Pixel Pass, allowing users to upgrade their Pixel phones for free and access Google’s premium services. However, Google canceled the Pixel Pass even before the first upgrade cycle could take place.

These failed attempts raise questions about the viability of phone subscriptions in the current market. Do users prioritize ownership over the environmental benefits of a longer lifespan? Would a different pricing structure or a wider range of upgrade options entice more people to consider renting their phones? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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