Circular economy

Smartphones, tablets and laptops: the future is modular

Questo post è disponibile anche in: Italian

New boom of projects to create easily repairable devices. Google among the biggest actors.

Electronic devices are increasingly more modular. This trend is almost invisible for now, since most electronic devices – smartphones, computers, tablets, etc. – are still not easy to disassemble and repair. But something is changing.

Modularity means that devices are designed to be easy to disassemble, even for those who are not familiar with technology. In the case of smartphones, for example, the most common problem is the breaking of the screen: if users were able to replace the screen as easily as if it were a battery, the life of the phone would increase considerably.

With this approach, way less electronic components would end up in the waste cycle: this is a fundamental point, since electronic devices contain both valuable materials and dangerous substances. With modularity, it would be much easier for recycling facilities to sort the different materials.

Many initiatives have taken this direction: the best known example is Fairphone, the ethical and sustainable smartphone designed by the Dutch start-up of the same name. The phone, which can only be bought from the company’s website and costs €530, is the greenest device to be found on the phone market: it uses minerals whose extraction does not harm the ecosystem, it is based on an ethical work chain, and it offers a long lasting structure that can be entirely repaired. Users will be able to replace every damaged component, such as the screen, without the help of repair centers.

Similar products are the modular smartwatch produced by London’s Blocks and the Danish Aiaiai headphones, whose speakers, cables and ear pads can be easily replaced. These are all small-scale projects, whose sales volumes do not exceed a few thousands, while the electronic market includes tens of millions of smartphones and other devices. However, even some big multinationals are approaching modularity: Google, for example, is currently working on Project Ara, which is an effort to create a modular hardware ecosystem for smartphones.

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