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Fairphone ends support for its first phone after three and a half years
Fairphone has announced that the Fairphone 1, released in 2013, will no longer be supported for spare parts or receive the update to Android KitKat. The news arrived in a blog post by Fairphone founder and CEO Bas van Abel last week, who also discussed the reasons behind the decisions.
The Fairphone 1 is built from ethically sourced, conflict-free, recyclable materials, and for the past three and a half years, its owners have been able to purchase spare components from Fairphone’s online store. This has helped to provide a longer device lifespan than the typical two years that most other major smartphones are supported for. But a “long-lasting design” has always been one of Fairphone’s key goals for its devices, and support for its first phone might have ended sooner than it had hoped.
“It is now clear that we can’t keep spending resources on finding new options and loopholes without negatively impacting our company’s future,” wrote van Abel. “Over the years, due to the fast pace of change in the electronics industry, most of the original Fairphone 1 spare parts have now been retired by our suppliers. In other words, the parts we need no longer exist.”
Components are only one problem here, however, as Fairphone also failed to deliver any major software updates to the device. The phone arrived with Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean, and it has remained on Jelly Bean throughout its lifetime.
van Abel didn’t discuss the software side of things in the blog post, but in a statement to TechCrunch, a Fairphone spokesman said: “Similar to the spare parts, software updates are issued by chipset manufacturers and simply not supplied anymore after a while. While we can write those in principle ourselves, for a small company like Fairphone it is very difficult and costly to develop these, which is why we cannot do it for Fairphone 1.”
The issue with this statement is that Fairphone did announce an upgrade to KitKat last summer; one of its software devs even wrote a detailed post about how it had secured the licenses that would allow them to release the update.
Looking into it, it does appear to be true that MediaTek didn’t officially support KitKat for the MT6589, despite some rumors that this was imminent. But with Fairphone confirming the update itself, it’s no wonder this has left Fairphone 1 owners frustrated (see the comments here).
The Fairphone spokesperson did add that “There is very little set up by the industry for sustainable production in its current state and we are working to change that,” but it’s just more words at this point, and we need to see some action.
It’s a disappointing turn of events for the Fairphone 1 — zero major software updates is no doubt difficult to swallow even with the positive ethical statement that comes with owning the phone. But I do think that the company’s ambitions are well-founded and that there is still a market for such devices (and providing three and a half years of component support is, as I noted above, still more than most manufacturers offer). Hopefully, Fairphone will learn from missteps on its first handset going forward, and the Fairphone 2 (and future device) owners will receive better support and communication from the company.
“Our mission hasn’t changed: we want to expand the market for fair electronics and increase our positive impact in the electronics sector,” said van Abel. “And we’re making progress, slowly but surely. But creating radical change and combating major industry trends doesn’t happen overnight.”