The march of the black boxes

darth vader by Flickr user trustypics

Used on a CC license by Flickr user trustypics

This post was originally published in Electronics Weekly in our new series called Unscrewed.

No doubt about it, tablets and mobiles are getting thinner and harder to open. More parts are glued, fused and soldered together, all in the pursuit of these sleek sealed gadgets.

We’re reminded of an anecdote about the late Steve Jobs, who supposedly took a poor engineer’s prototype of the first iPod, walked to the aquarium, and dropped it in. Air bubbles floated to the surface, and Jobs said “make it smaller”.

This obsession with sleek, thin, sealed black boxes has spread well beyond Apple, and well beyond handheld data-enabled devices.

Recently we’ve started to wonder: are we facing a whole new generation of electronics which even we cannot save during our three hour, fun and free community events? Continue reading

The most #ethicalmob

At The Restart Project, our favourite – and surprisingly uncommon – message is:

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We were amused to have dozens of friends and supporters sending us the Phonebloks video a few weeks ago. It is a very compelling concept for a modular, upgradeable mobile phone – inspired by Legos and very well communicated. It is a great idea, but it will remain a charming design fiction until a whole lot of things change in the electronics industry. Continue reading

A repairable Fairphone

fairphone teardown

This post was first published as a guest post on the Fairphone blog.

Two weeks ago we ran a workshop in the Fairphone Pop-Up Shop as part of London Design Festival. We were invited to create a participatory event built around the latest prototype of the Fairphone, the first smartphone designed and produced with transparency and fairness in mind.

Our organisation promotes a positive change in people’s relationship with electronics: regaining control of the devices we own, by learning to take them apart, troubleshoot them, repair them and prolong their life span. When it comes to mobiles, our motto is that “the most ethical phone is the one you already have,” meaning that we should always try our best to make the most of the devices we have before thinking of upgrading.

It comes as no surprise that we decided to perform a “gentle teardown” of the Fairphone, to investigate whether the ethical direction of the project is also reflected in a design for durability and repairability. Even before dismantling the phone, we already appreciated that the device is Dual SIM, expandable with microSD and with user-replaceable battery. But we wanted to find out more.

Five Restarters took apart the Fairphone, sharing the experience with 15 other participants and a few Fairphone staff members, answering our questions as we made progress. Here is what we found out.

Continue reading

Smarter Phones or Smarter Citizens?

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Volunteers from The Restart Project take apart a Fairphone prototype to learn about its design and repairability

It looks like it’s business as usual for mobile manufacturers, providers and “enthusiasts”. In the past few days, we have once again witnessed a typical set of events: first of all, new versions of an iconic smartphone get unveiled, followed by an extraordinary round of hype and media attention – like there is no tomorrow, and not other news to write or blog about.

In the meantime, more mobile providers around the world launch new fancy contracts, designed to allow customers to change their mobile as often as they want, so that when they get tired of the latest and the greatest, they can move on and find (temporary) relief in a new gadget.

Unsurprisingly, and yet unsettlingly, we are then shown one more time videos of customers queueing for hours, for days, to be the first to touch and buy the latest smartphone.

However, there is also another world out there, and we are happy to report it is growing steadily: more and more people are getting increasingly frustrated with the throwaway culture endlessly marketed to them.

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Beyond fixing: taking apart and tinkering

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We’ve got an interesting couple of events planned for coming weeks, beyond the usual frenzy of activity of Restart Parties from Dalston to rural Wales, and our workshop to help others replicate our model.

We’re partnering with Fairphone at London Design Festival (September 19) and some friends to run some fun sessions at Mozilla Festival (October 25-27).

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Redesigning the inkjet printer – work in progress

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This week we participated in the first of three workshops organised by the People’s Design Lab. It was an opportunity to learn from others with a background in design about their frustrations with printing. Interestingly, initial conversations revolved around a deeper question: why should we print at all? Why is it that certain airlines and railway companies do not allow for simpler e-ticketing practices? Why do we need to pay a premium at times for an sms-based ticket, which would save ink, paper, paper recycling, etc etc?

When we started to look at options for improving inkjet printers, a key element was participants’ frustration with wasteful ink cartridges: expensive, containing very little ink, too often hard to refill and therefore simply “recycled”. We want to see much more interoperability among cartridges: less wasteful design, less unnecessary chips embedded in cartridges and the adoption of systems such as continuous ink supply in standard consumer printers.

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Let’s rethink and Restart the inkjet printer

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This inkjet printer is still functional, but was open by our volunteers Jack and Ben and is part of the Open Institute’s exhibit The Future of Open in London until July 3

Inkjet printers have been very common at our Restart Parties, since the very beginning. In many occasions, the meticulous work of our wonderful Restarters has helped to clean, repair, defeat planned obsolescence and give a second life to printers that were just about ready to be taken to a recycling centre.

However, we know that fixing broken printers is not enough. This week we are exhibiting a “transparent” open printer as part of the The Future of Open‘s exhibition in London, to help visualise how printers work.

Next week we begin working on rethinking future inkjet printers, particularly how they could be made better, with better durability, ease of maintenance and less wasteful operation.

Continue reading