How sustainable is the model of your smartphone?

Smartphones are almost a necessity in today’s society, but how long do they really last?


Meleena Richardson

Angie Munoz, primary education sophomore, uses her phone during leisure time at University Grounds Coffee Shop. Photo by Meleena Richardson.

Marc Andry, Staff Reporter

Smartphones are almost a necessity in today’s society, but how long do they really last? The responsibility of sustaining a smartphone partially falls on the user for taking care of it, but also to the manufacturer for continually supporting it.

A smartphone is usually considered useless when it’s broken or unsupported. Supporting smartphones means allowing them to access the latest software updates in order to improve performance. Due to the physical design of most smart phones, their interior workings are often difficult to access and repair. This leads to consumers with broken phones just disposing or trading in their old phone and buying a new one.

Further, if the consumer throws away the smartphone instead of recycling it, they are wasting natural resources. Several of the materials in smartphones are hard to obtain such as cobalt- used to make batteries in smartphones.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in Africa is the world’s largest cobalt manufacturer. Over 100,000 people work in the cobalt mines enduring life threatening conditions and little to no pay.

Mining rare minerals also creates an abundance of pollution which has led to unsustainable living conditions in the DRC. Recycling old phones means less mining has to be done in the future, meaning less pollution for the DRC.


Charging stations that allow students to charge their phones and other electronic devices are located around campus.

Smartphone Support

All smartphones run on some type of operating system which needs to be supported to allow new updates on the phone. When a phone stops supporting new software updates, what does that mean?

It means that it will no longer receive new features such as security updates, and compatibility with- current and future applications can be impacted. This can put the security of the phone at risk as well as limit its accessibility to certain apps.

Most people have either a Samsung or an Apple smartphone, high-end devices that run on the Android and iOS operating systems respectively. Individuals who don’t use Samsung or Apple devices — i.e. LG, Google, Huawei —  most likely still use a phone running on Android.

Google’s Android operating system is used by over a dozen smartphone manufacturers — LG, Huawei, Samsung, Sony, OnePlus and Google to name a few — because it does not cost anything to use and is far more customizable than Apple’s iOS. The downside to Android is that updates take a long time to reach consumers and many Android phones are not able to receive updates after two years.

Apple’s iOS is specifically made for iPhones making it unavailable to all other smartphone manufacturers. iOS is also more restricted in customization than Android, but makes up for it in longevity. Apple allows their phones to update their software for an average of five years.

Even now in 2019 the current iOS 12 can still be downloaded on the iPhone 5S which launched in 2013.

A Professional Perspective

Sridhar Ramachandran is the coordinator and associate professor of informatics at IU Southeast. As an informatician, Ramachandran works with technology all the time and has even repurposed his old Android phones to make them useful.

Ramachandran says Apple is heading in the right direction regarding cell phone sustainability, as iPhones are supported an average of five years compared to Android’s average of two, according to research done by Android Authority.

“If Android doesn’t up their game then they may be rendered obsolete,” Ramachandran said.

He believes that the future of smartphones will likely be in the form of DIY kits, such as iSquare Mobility’s Kite Project which would’ve allowed a consumer to build their own smartphone and add personalized features.

Due to the fact that iSquare Mobility’s project could not obtain the necessary funding, it was put on hold for the time being.

Sustainability Club

Brittany Harris is a senior double majoring in neuroscience and sociology. She also serves as the president of the Sustainability Club at IU Southeast. Harris believes in companies supporting their older technologies to increase sustainability.

“I feel companies should look at the technologies they already have, figure out the ways they could integrate and update them using sustainable models, and then develop newer technologies if needed,” said Harris.

The sustainability club is also working on an e-waste day concept for the campus in which students can bring in old electronics to be recycled.

Sustainability matters more than it ever has. A 2015 Nielsen study showed that 73 percent of millennials are willing to pay more for sustainable offerings.

As more and more countries shift toward renewable energy and legislation for environmental reform, tech giants need to do the same. The future is coming soon — are Apple and Samsung ready for it?