A smartphone that is made for longevity can be a real thing. Too bad that’s not how most of them are designed.
Brian X. Chen, who has tested smartphones since 2007, is The Times’s personal technology columnist.
What would a smartphone look like if it could last for 10 years?
It’s a question that most of us have not had the luxury of pondering. That’s because many smartphones are designed to be replaced every two or three years. And Apple, Samsung and other handset makers unveil new models — along with big marketing campaigns — each year, encouraging us to upgrade.
But bear with me and fantasize for a moment.
If a smartphone were designed to last a decade, it would probably be made so that we could simply open it up to replace a part like a depleted battery or a cracked screen. Many of its components would be able to be upgraded — if you wanted a better camera, you could just swap out the old one for a newer, more powerful one. You could also download software updates from the phone’s maker indefinitely.
Sensible and sustainable, right?
Thinking of what such a device might be like is especially relevant now as phone season — that time of year when tech companies blitz us with new models — begins again. On Wednesday, Apple unveiled the iPhone 14, which bears a striking resemblance to its predecessor. Also this week Google announced plans to show new Android phones in October. And last month Samsung introduced an array of cellphones that fold like books.
These latest wares underscore how today’s smartphones aren’t made for longevity. Most of the gadgets come tightly sealed up with glue to keep you out of them. Parts, like cameras and screens, are impossible to upgrade à la carte. Software updates are guaranteed for only a finite amount of time, usually two years for Androids and about five years for iPhones.
Keeping us on such short cycles of smartphone ownership is great for the tech companies and their coffers — but maybe not so much for us and our wallets.
Don Norman, a former vice president for advanced technology at Apple and the author of nearly two dozen books on design, said smartphone…