From Ara modularity to Fairphone evolutivity

I just found out Fairphone which seems to be a possible continuation of project Ara. A phone I can replace parts is very close to a modular phone. Close is enough for me. I can understand why Ara failed and I don’t want the same for Fairphone but I would like an evolutive phone.

Today we can buy the FP2 but it is too big for me, I would like the FP1. I am not the only one but the answer is

  • there is no more screen available
  • it is outdated, no LTE and other things

Ok, but why? Since we can change parts why there is no new Core module with a better CPU and LTE. Why can’t we choose between different resolution screens? Why should I throw to the garbage my old FP1 when all I want would be a new Core with LTE? I cannot any reason why FP1 should stop one day (except because we can do the same twice thinner).

If I look at the FP2 there is a nice screen but an old CPU. Why not an update of the core module?

FP should be boxes in which you put the modules you want.

My 5 cents,

Olivier.

2 Likes

Hi Olivier, welcome to the forum.

Since you are new to Fairphone, here are some things you obviously didn’t know yet:

  • Fairphone is a small company with not a lot of resources, so they can’t just change the game in a day.
  • They started as a movement trying to raise awareness about everything that’s wrong in the mobile phone industry. They then found that creating their own phone was the best way to do so.
  • The FP1 was not designed by Fairphone. They just bought the license of an old Chinese phone and sold it packed with their conflict free minerals and values. The FP1 is not modular and will never be.
  • The FP2’s modularity is mainly means to reduce e-waste and increase repairability. Future upgrades are possible, but at some point it will surely be more feasible to create a new - more modular - phone. E.g. the addressed upgrade to the core module may never come as designing it would take a lot of time and money which may be better spent designing a new fairer phone.
  • Because Fairphone is a small company they have to be very selective about what projects to realize. E.g. creating different models of the same phone is a good idea for a giant company like apple if they want to get everybody to buy one or more of their products, but it would be a shot in the own foot for a small company that has a niche target audience.
8 Likes

On this matter, there’s also the issue of software that is rarely accounted for. Having different modules that can be swapped one another also means you need to have software support for them. This can happen two ways : either the modules answer to a generic software interface (which would make it hard if not impossible to take all their peculiarities into account) or the operating system’s hardware abstraction layer has drivers for each and every of them (which would mean a very bloated system, and a new OS update each time a new module comes into existence, plus a mechanism for the OS to autoconfigure itself accordingly).

In its current state Android does not, I believe, support either of these implementations and either it or the standards to make new modules would require substantial work in order for this to be possible. That’s most probably out of Fairphone’s reach (for now ?)

Do not expect this kind of modularity even on the FP2. While the new covers definitely look promising, it’s one of the few pieces of your phone that don’t require software support.

5 Likes

Hi Paul,

Thanks for the insight. There is still something not clear for me, does Fairphone design its modules or does it take them on the shelves? I expect them to be designed by Fairphone at least to fit in the box. Therefore a new core module would be the same work for a new phone or for a former one.

I understand the main goal is fair phone which has nothing to do with reducing waste. Communists push for consummation and welfair of workers. But I get confused when you say “FP2’s modularity is mainly means to reduce e-waste and increase repairability” which open a door for more ecology and less marketing. If you want to reduce e-waste and if you want to reduce costs, it is better to make a new core module than a new phone. I would still use my first smart phone if I could change the core module and the battery (the screen is perfect, I don’t use the camera, the microphone and speaker are fine). And when I say reduce cost I mean for users and for Fairphone.

If I know my FP2 is going to evolve and I can not only repair it but upgrade it, it makes a huge difference compare to other phones.

Olivier.

About software upgrade, Cyanogen has plenty versions so, there are hundreds of different phones with Android, millions of different computers with Linux. It can be done. Today FP2 is a 5.1 Android, that’s a pity. The reason why I am looking for a new phone is that my former phone is stuck to 5.1.

It would make sense to have a software version for each core module and drivers for other components.

Fairphone modules are regular phone components (like the camera, antenna… etc) that have been cleverly repackaged by Fairphone to replace the use of the original connectors by pogo pins and to make their removal/replacement easier. You can see an example of someone disassembling his camera module here.

wtf

Reducing e-waste has been one of Fairphone’s goals for the FP2 from the ground up. The point Paul was making was from the point of view of someone that does not need to upgrade his phone’s specs every other week (which will become more common now people realise our phones’ hardware specs are highly overkill given how we use them). Reducing e-waste for FP2 is done by offering the possibility to easily and painlessly replacing a broken component (like a malfunctioning core module, a worn-out battery, a broken camera…) with spare parts to prevent people from having to buy a whole new phone when a single component breaks.

As I have mentioned in my previous comment, the Android OS has not been thought with modularity in mind. Upgrading only the core module would mean a new version of Android, complete with its tests, bugs and update system would have to be made for your new phone that consists of a high-tech proc and outdated components (that might not even be properly supported by the proc).
That would only increase the number of “phones” FP would have to support. The costs both for you and Fairphone would rise accordingly. This also applies to a later part of your comment :

I’m not sure how this relates to the matter at hand.

Major Android versions are functional updates, while anterior versions still receive security patches. It’s way better to have a regularly patched 5.1 than a 7.0 that won’t be fixed for months (especially with the last privilege escalation exploit that has been discovered recently).

What’s more, latest Android updates have been overwhelmingly Google Services updates, the Android basis itself does not receive much love (except maybe for the privacy center and doze mode in Marshmallow, which existed on Cyanogenmod years prior to 6.0, and multi-window mode in Nougat that existed on other Cyanogen-based roms (like Blisspop)).

Upgrading to more recent Android versions is not only a matter of manpower, time and money. There are functional requirements that need to be checked, and agreements that need to be made with third parties that hinder the process (for example, if you want to know why the FP2 will likely never see Nougat you can read this. The FP2 is a msm8974 device).

8 Likes

I recommend to read blog posts from Fairphone, if you want to get to know the movement better. :slight_smile:

There has been an official statement about future Android upgrades (the previous discussion is also quite interesting):

And we have discussed a possible Fairphone 3 vs. module upgrades:

PS.: The topics are quite big. In order to only see the most important posts, hit “Summarize this topic” below the first post of a topic.

6 Likes

In my case a week is 6 years and even if I bought my first phone 10 years ago, I still fell frustrated I had to change it just because of its CPU and LTE (and therefore an old version of Android).

A new core module every 2, 3 or even 4 years is all I need. I cannot see any reason I would need a new screen, a new camera that I don’t use, a new box. If FP makes a new phone every 2 years it is useless for me (I never broke or had anything broken in my 2 phones).

2 Likes

Your last link, “FP3 – Hardware and obsolesce discussion”, had indeed all I wanted on that topic. I found out in Olivier Herbert that the FP3 should be modular enough to change the CPU and/or the memory. So maybe the FP3 will be the one I want (and then let call it FP$\infty$).

2 Likes

The topic you read are just wishes from us, the consumers. So don’t take it for granted he FP3 will have all/most of these features!

2 Likes

The FP2 already has a "core module"
If you need to buy a whole FP3 to upgrade it, then WHY having bought a modular phone ??
Why not doing an FP3, but If the newer modules are not also installable in the FP2, this will totally defeat the concept.

2 Likes

True !

Apparently FP1 wasn’t modular. So now, FP2 should be. Hope that FP3 is an upgrade of FP2 so everybody can upgrade his FP2 modular phone.

2 Likes

FP2 is the first ever modular phone, designed by a small company, so it’s to be expected that FP2’s modularity is not as good as it gets.

So the hypothetical question is: If Fairphone has the choice between upgrading the core module of a pretty modular phone or creating a new, super-modular phone which then can be upgraded indefinitely, which should they choose?
Be aware that in fact there are probably more steps (FP models) between the FP2 and a super modular phone. I’m sure it’s not an easy decision but I’m also sure that the Fairphone team has much more info to help them decide and that they will choose the best (for the environment) possible option.

5 Likes

FP2 pretty modular, FP3 super modular, then FP4 hyper modular ?
will the buyers follow this ? knowing that a big part of their target is people interested in waste reducing ?
A strong point of FP is their users community, what will happen if they feel betrayed/abused because there’s a new very good camera module, but not FP2 retro compatible ?

5 Likes

Hello everyone! I have a fairphone 2 and everytime someone ask me about its modularity I must admit that I don’t know whether it will keep going for a sufficient time that will make it worth.

Therefore I want to share with the community and with the FP staff my thought about the Modularity to see if it is a common thought and if it is feasible.

  • As we live in a capitalist world, Fairphone need to sell “often” new products in order to be alive and to be considered a good firm, a good model to do business.

  • let’s now assume that Fairphone decide to build a new FP3. The market is quite saturated now (already) therefore the only way to attract new consumers is to show that modularity will continue for long time. But not just the modularity of “repairing” but also the “upgradable” module.

  • maybe you already understood where i want to go… So they the FP3 should be a total upgrade of the FP2, BUT with the possiblity to interchange the modules from one to the other. In this way any FP2 owner could decide also to buy the single “new FP3-motherboard” and put it in his old FP2 with all the other FP2-modules.

  • Obviously this has to continue for some generations, so it is necessary that FP2 could use FP4-modules, but if it cannot support FP5-modules, could be acceptable. At least we gave it a quite long life.

This is my main idea on how modularity in Fairphone should work; of course with time Fairphone could aquire enough knowledge to do a better modularity, like having separate CPU and Ram modules. But this will come with the time.

Next step would be the recycle of old modules, of course.

Do you think, it is a feasible idea? I am not a computer engeneer, so I do not know whether it is possible or not, but let’s distinguish from “impossible” to “hard”.

5 Likes

We are currently working on upgrades for the Fairphone 2. Next to it, we have started concepting the next Fairphone. But don’t expect to arrive that before 2018.

8 Likes

and what about the compatibility of modules?

1 Like

I think there is only a need for a new camera and a new core module (where only the SoC, RAM, memory and modem is updated*). The screen, cover, battery, top and bottom modules can be re-used in the “next generation Fairphone”.

*I think it’s a good idea to make SoC, RAM, memory and modem replaceable in the core module. So the “next generation Fairphone” can get support for new standards (like 5G) just by replacing the modem or when the support for a specific SoC is dropped by its manufacturer, you can replace it by another.

4 Likes