Phone, Everlasting: What If Your Smartphone Never Got Old? : All Tech Considered For many of us, when a phone starts slowing down we face a choice: spend the money to try to fix it or get a new one. But could there be a phone that never loses its luster?
NPR logo

Phone, Everlasting: What If Your Smartphone Never Got Old?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/474132624/475631357" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Phone, Everlasting: What If Your Smartphone Never Got Old?

Phone, Everlasting: What If Your Smartphone Never Got Old?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/474132624/475631357" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

For a lot of us, when our smartphone starts to feel a little slow, we face a choice - spend the money to try to fix it or just get a new one. But what if there was a smartphone that never got old? NPR's Alina Selyukh looked into it.

ALINA SELYUKH, BYLINE: What if I told you there was a way to keep using your phone forever? I asked some phone users, would you want to?

JEREMY REGISTER: Sure.

SELYUKH: Why?

REGISTER: Price.

KIM THOMAS: Yeah, it would appeal to me just 'cause I don't like the hassle of having to go decide what you want on your new phone.

DANIEL PAULINO: No, I don't think so because it wouldn't have, like, all the newest features.

SELYUKH: That's Jeremy Register, Kim Thomas and Daniel Paulino who I met in downtown Washington. Americans are actually pretty split, says analyst Roger Entner.

ROGER ENTNER: It's about half and half.

SELYUKH: Half of us crave the latest devices, and the other half...

ENTNER: They don't mind if it's three, four, five, six years old.

SELYUKH: But on average, we'll stick with our phones for roughly two years. Does technology have anything to do with it? For an explanation, I Skyped with Jessa Jones. She's a repair evangelist who will try to fix just about anything.

JESSA JONES: One particular phone that got flushed down the toilet which I then smashed in my front yard...

SELYUKH: That's how her kids turned her into MommyFixit. Jones has now revived thousands of devices at her shop, iPad Rehab, and she says phones slow down after a few years.

JONES: Over time, you'll find a mismatch between your hardware and the current version of the software.

SELYUKH: In other words, the phone's wiring gets too old to handle the newest features.

JONES: You could use a phone for a really long time if you didn't try to upgrade the software.

SELYUKH: So that's one way to use your phone forever. But what if you didn't have to give up on the new updates?

DAVE HAKKENS: I'm definitely in the tree hugger's group.

SELYUKH: That tree hugger is Dutch designer Dave Hakkens. In 2013, he launched a project that chased that dream of a cool but everlasting phone for environmental reasons.

HAKKENS: I 100 percent started this to reduce the amount of e-waste. That was the whole goal of this project. And it still is the main goal, I guess, to just try to have a phone that grows with you but doesn't generate that much waste.

SELYUKH: The project was called Phonebloks.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HAKKENS: So this is a new kind of phone. It's made of blocks.

SELYUKH: It was a concept design of a modular phone. Its components, like the screen, camera, battery, even processor, are all separately detachable and replaceable. The video took off on the web. It created a global community of supporters. Companies in China and Europe started talking about and working on modular phones. But the big market test of the idea could come later this year.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RAFA CAMARGO: Here you go - Ara.

(CHEERING)

SELYUKH: Ara is a modular phone by Google. That's project lead Rafa Camargo unveiling a working prototype last year. The pilot is slated for 2016. And what Google promotes about Ara is this idea of tailoring your phone for what you need it to do. But some environmental activists are also watching the modular movement, hoping it will show that people do want to keep their phones for a really long time. Alina Selyukh, NPR News.

Copyright © 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.