Sunday, October 2, 2011

Why you may never need a new mobile phone

The mobile phone that a Danish firm hopes will last for ever.
Some things, such as furniture or jewellery, are made to last a lifetime – yet despite being equally pricey, it is hard to find an electronic gadget that can hope to outlive a goldfish. Mobile phones are usually upgraded every few years, and there are few personal computers that aren't riddled with viruses or just plain knackered after a decade.

But now a counter-movement to technological disposability is emerging, promising electronics that can last for ever. Leading the charge is Danish firm Æsir, which claims to have invented a mobile phone that will never need to be replaced. It has a pared-down design carved out of surgical-grade steel. "There's a long tradition in Denmark to build things that will last," says Thomas Møller Jensen, Æsir's founder. "So we tried to design our mobile phone like you would a chair, boiling it down to the essence of what it should be."

And it turns out that the essence of a mobile phone … is a phone. Æsir's device does little more than make calls and send texts, like a luxury watch that only tells the time (and like a luxury watch, it costs €6,000/ £5,200). It is proof, though, that simplicity is the key to longevity.

Despite having the sophistication of a pocket calculator, for example, Pac-Man has remained one of the world's most popular video games for 30 years. And Amazon's Kindle comes closer than any multifunctional tablet computer to achieving lifelong appeal by sticking to the basic job of displaying books.

Everlasting gadgets, however, need tough hardware. In the future, science may provide us with machines that don't wear out. This year, researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental, Safety and Energy Technology in Germany unveiled a plastic that heals itself like skin, while Australian researchers have shown it is possible to design batteries that never need recharging.

Jensen, whose favorite gadgets include his 20-year-old handbuilt turntable, believes that consumers and manufacturers must first change the way they think about electronics. "There's an obsession with obsolescence. I'm sick of opening the newspaper and having adverts for 200 new televisions in my face," he says.

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