Smartphones are available on the market with a variety of design characteristics and purchase prices. Recent trends show that their replacement cycle has become on average shorter than two years, which comes with environmental impacts that could be mitigated through a prolonged use of such devices. This paper analyses limiting states and design trends affecting the durability of smartphones, and identifies reliability and repairability measures to extend the product lifetime. Technical trade-offs between reliability and repairability aspects are also discussed.
Smartphones are often replaced prematurely because of socio-economic and technical reasons. Specific hardware parts (e.g. display, battery, back cover), as well as software, can be critical. Improving the reliability of smartphones can reduce the occurrence of early replacements. Apart from the bottom-line consideration of reliability aspects for electronics, this can be pursued through the design of devices which: i) are resistant to mechanical stresses; ii) implement durable batteries; iii) offer sufficient adaptability to future conditions of use (e.g. in terms of software/firmware updates, memory and storage capacity). However, if and when failures occur, repairs have to be rapid and economically viable. This can be facilitated through modular design concepts, ease of disassembly of key parts, availability of spare parts and repair services. As common elements of the two strategies, easily-available instructions on use, maintenance and repair are also needed.
The analysis of devices on the market suggests that it is possible to design satisfactorily reliable devices without compromising repairability excessively. However, trade-offs between these two aspects can occur. Considerations about reliability and/or repairability should be integrated in the design of all smartphones.
The findings of this paper can be used by decision makers (e.g. manufacturers, designers, consumers and policy makers) interested in enhancing the durability of smartphones. This is particularly timely considering the policy attention on smartphones at the EU level.
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