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Decreasing obsolescence with modular smartphones? - An interdisciplinary perspective on lifecycles

: Proske, Marina; Jaeger-Erben, Melanie


Journal of cleaner production 223 (2019), S.57-66
ISSN: 0959-6526
Fraunhofer IZM ()

Smartphones offer a wide spectrum of features and functions, are subject to fast technological progress, and have short production and replacement cycles. Prolonging their use-times through modular design can have a significant effect on their environmental impact. This cannot be achieved solely by producing robust and durable devices, because smartphone use-times are closely linked to their functional performance and symbolic meaning. Modularity strategies change the technological principles of existing devices, but also the human-object relationship between users and their smartphones. Maintaining continuous functionality and reinforcing attachment to the device can go hand in hand, but could also lead to drawbacks and rebound effects. In this interdisciplinary paper, we discuss the environmental potential and risks of modular smartphones, based on three specific scenario designs (Fairphone 2, PuzzlePhone, and Google ARA), taking users’ functionality aspirations and practical needs into account.