The Cell Phone Replacement Cycle and the Windows phone 7 series

I went to the Engadget live show yesterday and saw the Windows phone 7 series.  And it is a big a leap from the iPhone as the iPhone was from windows mobile 5-6-6.1.

So, um, what to do with my windows mobile 6.5 powered phone is going to be two years old when WP7S hits the stores?  Even if it were perfectly recycled, there’s still significant embodied energy in it.  While I haven’t been able to fully quantify the energy and materials here, rest assured it’s not trivial, when magnified by millions of units being replaced every two years.

There is necessarily a progression towards better and better hardware as time passes: multitouch displays, faster processors, and learnings in usability design (although by now smart people should know not to use proprietary connectors and to put buttons in odd places).

Software upgradability could go a long way in addressing this.  I upgraded my phone from WM 6.1 to WM 6.5, which isn’t much of a major software change, necessitating new hardware.  WP7S is a major platform change, and it’s unlikely to be able to be run on my Omnia i910.

It would be nice if device manufacturers and software providers considered upgrade paths in their design work.  Apple’s vertically integrated hardware and software platform naturally leads itself to this kind of thinking – changes in the device software can be considered with respect to the now three generations of hardware.  While I’m not up on the latest iPhone knowledge, there doesn’t seem to have been much change in the OS as far as UI goes-the big changes have been in hardware functionality (GPS, compass, etc.).  The Windows Mobile platform has been for the most part device independent, and google’s Android has adopted a similar device independent of OS model.  Hardware requirements for generations of OS’s obviously influence hardware upgrades, but there is the possibility of soft upgrades in smartphones where traditional phones have no upgrade flexibility.

The physical life of mobile phones is also quite limited.  They are simply not designed to survive much abuse, so they last about 2 years before something cracks: a hinge, the screen cover, etc.  The manufacturers make money and the networks get to lock you into another contract – not exactly the best plan for the planet, but it matches well with their capitalist MO.


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