Netherlands-based hardware initiative Fairphone began around three years ago as a project designed to highlight the use of conflict minerals in the construction of consumer electronics, and then evolved three years later into a full-fledged hardware startup, with the aim of turning its knowledge into action with the building of an ethically sourced, built and distributed smartphone. Now, it’s opening up pre-orders to the general public, beginning with customers in Europe.
The Fairphone needs 5,000 pre-orders in order to begin production, and retails for a total of €325 ($436). That price included taxes, however and what you get for that is an unlocked, 4.3-inch smartphone running Android 4.2, powered by a quad core processor. It has an 8 megapixel rear camera, and a 1.3 megapixel front facing shooter, with dual-SIM trays for easy carrier switching and international travel.
As a smartphone, the Fairphone seems capable enough, but it’s the manufacturing process that’s really core to the concept of the device. The phone itself is made using materials from a completely transparent supply chain – Fairphone is looking at the provenance of each mineral used to make each component, the people who build each part and the processes evolved and their social and ecological impact, and will make all of that information available to buyers and the general public. The idea is to flag stuff that’s being done poorly, highlight ways to make changes, in both the short and long term, and also build a collection of best practices that can be shared with the rest of the industry.
Fairphone initially had opened sales only to the over 16,000 people who signed up to express interest when it initially announced the project, giving them first crack at the initial pre-order run. It seems like the percentage of those that were actually willing to put their money down on a device and contribute to the initial fund was much lower, however, which has prompted the expansion of sales to anyone in Europe who might want to contribute.
The Fairphone is being transparent about the sales process, too; thus far, it has managed to sell 2,333 phones through pre-orders, with 20 days left in its campaign. Hopefully broadening the buyer pool will spark more interest, because the project stands to be able to shed a lot of light on what for many is a completely invisible or poorly understood process.