Fair phone vs. iPhone

The Fairphone is a smartphone built with “ethical” components. Now it hopes to compete with the iPhone.

Since the iPhone hit the market in 2007, more than 7 billion mobile phones have been sold worldwide. But a lot of materials go into making these devices. Smartphones are made using about 50 metals (twice as many as an old-generation mobile) and are often difficult to recycle as they contain alloys.

Created in 2013, the Dutch company Fairphone wants to raise awareness about the impact mobile phones have on the environment. That is what prompted the company’s founder, Bas Van Abel, to develop a modular smartphone made of replaceable parts. Technologist looks back at the history of Fairphone and compares it to the market leader, iPhone.


The Fairphone idea is born in Amsterdam as part of a project initiated by the Waag Society, a research foundation focusing on art, culture and technology. The project came about with the aim of raising public awareness about conflict minerals used in consumer electronic devices.


After three years of studies and campaigns, the Fairphone social enterprise is set up in Amsterdam to start producing ethically-sourced smartphones. As of 30 November, 25,000 pre-orders are registered, covering all the production costs of the first batch. A few months earlier, Apple releases the iPhone 5c and 5s.


Initially set for the autumn of 2013, the delivery of all pre-ordered Fairphone smartphones is complete. In June, Fairphone begins production on a second batch of smartphones priced at €310 per unit. The company reports that it sold some 60,000 smartphones. But battery life is the subject of harsh criticism.


The second-generation Fairphone is officially launched, featuring a bigger screen, 4G connectivity and a higher price (€525). Based on a modular design, Fairphone 2 fights planned obsolescence, therefore opposing the iPhone 6s (whose starting price was $200 with a cell phone plan). The Max Havelaar fair trade label praised the company for using fair trade gold.


In October, the company announced that it had sold 50,000 Fairphone 2 models. That number is still far from the sales of iPhone 6, with more than 10 million handsets sold in the first three days after its release.