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It's very easy to look at your smartphone and forget how it came to be. Often times, I stare in awe of certain design cues and finishes which make me realize how hard manufacturers work to deliver such stellar products. However, it's what makes up the product's materials and how it was made that goes unnoticed. If this matters to you, a company called Fairphone is about to change your perspective of the mobile industry entirely.

How much do you really know about what goes into making your smartphone, tablet, or PC? If you knew you were funding an arms race in parts of the world, would you still buy your smartphone? Is it your responsibility, or the manufacturer's responsibility to make sure ethical business practices are employed?

Fairphone aims to take a socially responsible approach to supply chain management by letting consumers know they're making an ethical and safe purchase. In other words, the Fairphone is redefining the market's supply chain management and the entire economy behind how each smartphone is built.

"You can change the way products are made, starting with a single phone. Together, we're opening up the supply chain, and redefining the economy - one step at a time."

This is the message on the homepage of Fairphone's website. Fairphone's marketing ploy begins on an honest to goodness plea to the mobile market. It's "made with care," says Fairphone, and truly differentiates itself in an unknown world of supply chains of smartphone manufacturers by making the process completely transparent. Fairphone takes the guessing out of what happens behind the scenes of what makes up the smartphone. They claim to have "long-term relationships with suppliers to ensure good working conditions and safe recycling."

Fairphone also puts a wager on its "smart design" which is led by the company's manifesto of "if you can't open it, you don't own it." The term "open" is central to both the hardware and software experience of the Fairphone. The Fairphone's hardware includes a removable battery, dual-SIM capabilities, minimal packaging, and eliminates chargers and accessories in each package. The software experience is an Android affair which has some enhancements from Kwame Corp to provide an "uncluttered, user-friendly interface." Some enhancements include energy-consumption indicators and the ability to turn off notifications to "give yourself a break." Most intriguing of Fairphone's "smart design" is their desire to offer the device with other operating systems like Ubuntu OS for Phones and FireFox OS upon purchase, though details are few and far between on when or for how much it would cost for a choice in operating system on a Fairphone.

Fairphone is also making the bill of material and a breakdown of what you're paying for by making Fairphone a "clear deal." By providing a transparent price breakdown, Fairphone is betting there is value in knowing that you're also getting fair pricing. "We want the cost of a phone to reflect the actual cost of each step, including materials and labor. In order to show the phone's true value, we are not offering any marketing discounts."

"Lasting value" is another differentiator in Fairphone's marketing of the device. Three euros goes to a foundation called Closing the Loop which coordinates projects to safely recycle e-waste where such a process has yet to be implemented.

Saving the best for last, Fairphone is committed to "precious materials" by highlighting their transparency with industry standards. They've joined initiatives in the Democratic Republic of Congo to guarantee profits do not fund illegal armed forces. Some of their initiatives including the conflict-free tin itiative and Solutions for Hope Project highlight Fairphone's goal of delivering a high-performance smartphone with conflict-free tin and coltan from mines around the world.

The Fairphone is in the running for being the first smartphone which you can truly connect with on the human level. It's a beautiful concept and is an honorable effort at making devices rewarding to purchase. I would not recommend Fairphone do anything differently with their beliefs or approach. Such a mentality is truly noble and marks a very important humanitarian effort at increasing accountability in the making of our gadgets. My eyes were opened by the Fairphone homepage, and I suggest you take the time to pay a visit.  

Fairphone needs 5,000 preorders in order to begin production next month and retails for around $436 including taxes. Fairphone ships with Android 4.2 Jelly Bean with Kwame Corporation's UI, a 4.3-inch qHD display, a quad-core MediaTek CPU, Dragontrail glass, 16GB internal storage, an 8-megapixel rear camera and 1.3-megapixel front-facer, 2,000mAh removeable battery, and is factory unlocked and GSM/CDMA ready. A full run-down of the specifications can be found here.

Do you wish you knew more about how your smartphone was made? Do ethical business practices matter to you? What do you think Fairphone means for the mobile industry? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

Images via Zeit and GSMNation.


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