Despite the best efforts of the right to repair movement, most popular smartphones are still notoriously hard to fix through DIY means. In 2013, ethical phone company Fairphone set out to change that, starting with its eponymous handset free of conflict materials, later adding a modular design to its successor and more recycled plastics to subsequent devices.
In keeping with its sustainability ethos, today Fairphone is rolling out an Android 9 update for its five-year-old Fairphone 2. That effectively means the handset, the company’s first modular device, can keep chugging on by receiving security updates. Owners can also take advantage of Android 9 features such as adaptive battery, predictive app actions and gesture navigation. Yes, the update is more than two years late, but it’s still a rare feat for a niche device.
Plus, getting here hasn’t been easy for the Dutch “social enterprise” company. Though it’s sold 115,000 Fairphone 2 handsets, it’s also had to grapple with procurement setbacks for spare parts. Its biggest challenge was estimating how many components to stockpile for the long-term once phone production stopped. In fact, Fairphone says the convoluted supply chain logistics caused it to permanently go out of stock of the Fairphone 2’s bottom module.
In addition, the company says it had to overcome the unique task of developing the phone’s software without the help of a chipset vendor. In order to obtain the Android 9 update, it had to pass around 477,000 Google tests to get its seal of approval, marking the second time it has been granted the certification without Qualcomm’s support. Overall, the issues are symptomatic of the problems facing tech startups, particularly those seeking to overturn prevalent business models.
As for the longevity of its latest devices, the company is promising an Android 11 update for the FairPhone 3 and 3+ in the second half of this year. A full software roadmap will be published detailing all its support until 2024 and it’s also pledged to ensure spare parts and accessory sales until at least August of that year.