[Arm-netbook] The Unplanned Obsolescence of the First Fairphone Device « Paul Boddie's Free Software-related blog

Paul Boddie paul at boddie.org.uk
Fri Jan 9 17:54:12 GMT 2015

Joining the discussion late and breaking the threading... ;-)

Nico Rikken wrote:
> Having had recent contact with the Fairphone-team on this issue (as a
> potential customer), they state that above all they are interested in
> working with the community to get this sorted. Now that they have a
> dedicated Software Developer in Kees Jongenburger hopefully they'll be
> able to turn things around for future models. We know the difficulties,
> but they clearly underestimated the impact of their hardware decision.

I must admit that I felt a bit bad complaining about their software strategy 
when there is someone who does seem to care about the matter (at least now, 
anyway). But I still feel that the initiative managed to store up a lot of 
problems that they could easily have avoided.

As I noted a year-and-a-half ago [1], the publicity materials seemed to play 
fast and loose with things like software sustainability and platform openness: 
mocking up Skype running on a phone (or perhaps just taking a screenshot from 
an existing phone) might work for much-needed stock images, but it sends the 
wrong message on a number of issues (Skype being proprietary software, uses a 
proprietary network, has various intelligence agencies and corporations 
eavesdropping on conversations, is controlled by a single corporation who 
happens to have a competing software platform and is shaking down Android 
product vendors for patent licences).

Of course, a lot of the potential audience don't care about that: they just 
want to be reassured that the materials in the phone are ethically sourced 
before reaching for their usual toys, and they hadn't then (and probably 
haven't now) widened their ethical concerns in the areas of privacy and 
transparency. My impression is that those running the initiative either didn't 
have such widened concerns, didn't want to tackle such things as well as the 
other stuff, or just got some bad advice.

The sad thing is that good advice could have been had for a tiny fraction of 
the effort that these people have gone to in the areas of materials sourcing 
and fair working practices, which as far as I can tell, have been thoroughly 
dealt with and require a commitment to social justice that involves dealing 
with some fairly entrenched and, particularly in the case of the minerals 
supply chain, some rather horrible problems.

I have to note that I wouldn't have been so aware of the dubious practices of 
the hardware business myself if it hadn't been for Luke and others documenting 
it on this list and elsewhere, or of the mishaps that plagued the first 
attempt at the Vivaldi tablet, but those lessons have been out there for 
people to learn from, and it seems now that either those responsible for the 
groundwork just didn't have the community awareness or that they felt that 
things would mend themselves when selecting manufacturing partners: itself a 
compromise between the flexibility to get the software done the right way 
(potentially treading on toes and "offending" existing suppliers), and the 
flexibility to change their other practices to make the manufacturing 
workplace generally fairer.

But then again, running a choice of a MediaTek product by just a few 
knowledgeable people would have been enough to set the alarm bells ringing. 
Maybe Fairphone would have made the same decision, anyway, and as the 
notorious Stephen Elop speech [2] noted (dredged up recently in another blog 
post of mine [3]), cobbling together MediaTek designs and throwing them over 
the wall was (and undoubtedly still is [4]) common practice, to the point that 
doing something else might have been a struggle.

But as we all know, you have to make and sustain investments to do the right 
thing. If you look for short-term fixes, you get short-term solutions, and 
that's what some of Fairphone's customers will be experiencing in the coming 
months and years. Again, Fairphone have committed themselves to ongoing 
investments in other areas, and it's a shame that they didn't consider the 
technological realm worthy of the same consideration.


P.S. I just realised that this could have been another complete article. Sorry 
to make it a long message for this list! :-)

P.P.S. For those who haven't read it yet, Bunnie's MediaTek reverse-
engineering article [4] below is long but interesting reading. You've got to 
admire Bunnie's determination!

[1] http://blogs.fsfe.org/pboddie/?p=168
[2] http://www.engadget.com/2011/02/08/nokia-ceo-stephen-elop-rallies-troops-
[3] http://blogs.fsfe.org/pboddie/?p=835
[4] http://www.bunniestudios.com/blog/?p=4297

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