Posts Tagged 'apple'

A phone that’s not satisfied just with being smart

By Harry van Versendaal

“Every so often you come across some article on Africa’s ‘blood minerals’ or the suicides at Foxconn,” says Nassos Katsamanis in reference to the Taiwanese contract manufacturer whose 1.2 million employees in China assemble consumer products for electronics giants such as Apple, Sony and Nokia.

From his verdant balcony in the central Athens neighborhood of Mets you can see apartment buildings crawling up the slopes of Mount Hymettus. Scattered on the living room floor are his son’s wooden toys. Little Andreas has still not turned 2, but he can already tell rubbish from recycling.

“It’s important to know that what you consume – the way you live your life at the end of the day – is not a burden on another man or the environment,” says the 34-year-old who works as a researcher on voice recognition technologies at the National Technical University of Athens. In his palm, he holds a Fairphone, the world’s first so-called “ethical” mobile device which was recently shipped to him from the Netherlands.

Fairphone came about in response to growing criticism over the fact that mainstream electronics products, including those sleek cell phones, are produced using minerals which are mined in conflict-riven areas in Central Africa. When buying one of these products, consumers also help finance mass killings and rapes in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Meanwhile, these gadgets are assembled in factories with despicable working conditions and environmental standards.

Fairphone, on the other hand, ensures consumers that the tin and tantalum used in its device are conflict-free.

“As soon as I read about the project, I identified with it to some extent,” says Katsamanis, admitting that the effort is still in the early stages. Fairphone, which started out in 2010 as a public awareness campaign concerning conflict minerals in consumer electronics organized by three Dutch NGOs, evolved into a social enterprise three years later.

Fairphone, which like most mainstream companies also manufactures its phone in China, has created a worker-controlled fund which aims at improving employees’ labor conditions and wage levels. For every device produced at the site, the company and the factory each invest 2.50 euros in the fund. Meanwhile, the company tries to be as transparent as possible by releasing a cost breakdown report of where every euro is spent and by regularly publishing social assessment reports on its factory.

The Android-powered device has a micro-USB port (a charger is not provided with the phone; the idea is that there is at least one sitting in one of your drawers at home), dual SIM slots and a removable battery. The phone can be upgraded, repaired (heads-up: if you can’t fix it yourself, you will need to post it to the company’s service department in Holland), and, when the time comes, recycled by Fairphone after it has been shipped to the company free of charge. Everything has been designed with an eye on increasing the handset’s life cycle and reducing waste. It is estimated that about 140 million cell phones end up in rubbish dumps every year in the US alone.

“I like the philosophy behind it. It’s like the old desktop computers which you could open up to switch the motherboard or add some extra memory,” Katsamanis says.

Storytelling device

From the company’s headquarters in Amsterdam, public engagement officer Daria Koreniushkina can’t hide her enthusiasm about the project. Following a successful crowdfunding campaign, the company has sold more than 55,000 handsets in a year and a half. However, “the phone is not the goal itself,” says the Russian, one of Fairphone’s 31 staff from 14 countries.

“It’s more a storytelling device. It talks about the bigger picture, what goes inside the phone and the complicated production processes and the problems related to it.

“Our goal is to create a fairer economy and our example to actually inspire the whole industry to change things and make interventions in the supply chain.”

Legislation signed by the Obama administration in 2010 compels US companies to identify the sources of minerals in their components, while a traceability scheme has been introduced by the United Nations. Firms such as Apple and Samsung have taken some steps in a more sustainable direction, however they claim that certification of origin is not always feasible due to the large number of intermediaries in the production process.

“We realize that we are very tiny at the moment and that alone we cannot bring about change. We would like other brands to join our mission and then we would have fulfilled our mission,” says Koreniushkina.

Would that not make Fairphone, well, redundant?

“We would like it if other companies started to produce their own ‘fair’ phone and then compete with them in terms of fairness rather than market share,” Koreniushkina says, adding that the production of a 100 percent fair phone is practically impossible because there are thousands of standards that could be improved.

“Another issue is, what do you consider fair?” she says.

The company fends off criticism that the Fairphone is a luxury choice aimed exclusive at well-off Western consumers.

“One of the things we would like to prove is that ethical production is not necessarily more expensive. Our phone is not priced as a luxury product,” Koreniushkina says. At 325 euros, the Fairphone is no more expensive than other midrange smartphones.

“Our target group is basically everyone, because nowadays almost everyone has a mobile phone,” she says, although the company stops short of prompting people to get rid of their working phones.

“We always encourage people to keep their phone because we think that the phone you already own, if working, is the most sustainable one. We don’t want to create more waste.”

Back in Athens, Katsamanis says that the stubborn economic crisis is not an obstacle to the success of the Fairphone.

“I do not think things would be any different if people were better off. In fact the crisis could provoke people into thinking that the real cost is not the price of the phone. The point is to think in terms of cause and effect, in a broader context,” he says.

If figures are any guide, few people think that way. Just 21 orders have been placed from Greece to date.

Το πρώτο «ηθικό» smartphone

Του Χάρη φαν Φέρσεντααλ

«Κάθε τόσο διαβάζεις κάτι για τα “ματωμένα μέταλλα” της Αφρικής ή τις αυτοκτονίες στο εργοστάσιο της Foxconn» λέει ο Νάσος Κατσαμάνης για τον ταϊβανέζικο όμιλο που συναρμολογεί προϊόντα για γίγαντες ηλεκτρονικών όπως η Apple, η Sony και η Nokia στην Κίνα απασχολώντας 1,2 εκατομμύριο εργαζόμενους.

Από το κατάφυτο μπαλκόνι στου Μετς μπορείς να δεις τις πολυκατοικίες της πόλης να σκαρφαλώνουν στους πρόποδες του Υμηττού. Το πάτωμα του διαμερίσματος είναι διάσπαρτο με ξύλινα παιχνίδια του γιου του που, πριν κλείσει τα 2, ξέρει ήδη να ξεχωρίζει τα απορρίμματα από την ανακύκλωση.

«Είναι σημαντικό να ξέρεις πως ό,τι καταναλώνεις, ο τρόπος που ζεις σε τελική ανάλυση, δεν επιβαρύνει κάποιον άλλο ή το περιβάλλον» λέει ο 34χρονος ερευνητής ηλεκτρολόγος-μηχανικός στο ΕΜΠ. Στην παλάμη του κρατάει ένα Fairphone, το πρώτο «ηθικό» smartphone της αγοράς, που έφτασε στα χέρια του πριν από μερικές μέρες από την Ολλανδία.

Το Fairphone γεννήθηκε ως αντίδραση στο γεγονός πως οι ορυκτές ύλες που χρησιμοποιούνται για την κατασκευή των κινητών και άλλων ηλεκτρονικών συσκευών προέρχονται από διαφιλονικούμενες ή εμπόλεμες ζώνες όπως η Λαϊκή Δημοκρατία του Κονγκό (ΛΔΚ), ενώ η συναρμολόγησή τους γίνεται σε εργοστάσια με αμφιλεγόμενες εργασιακές και περιβαλλοντικές προδιαγραφές. Η ομώνυμη εταιρεία διαβεβαιώνει πως ο κασσίτερος και το ταντάλιο που χρησιμοποιούνται στη συσκευή προέρχονται από ορυχεία που δεν ελέγχονται από παραστρατιωτικές ομάδες (conflict-free).

«Με το που είδα μια τέτοια προσπάθεια ταυτίστηκα σε κάποιο βαθμό, αν και είναι ακόμα στα πρώτα βήματα» λέει ο Κατσαμάνης για το Fairphone που ξεκίνησε ως εκστρατεία ευαισθητοποίησης του κοινού το 2010 πριν εξελιχθεί σε κοινωνική επιχείρηση 3 χρόνια αργότερα.

Η Fairphone, που επίσης κατασκευάζει το κινητό της στην Κίνα, έχει δημιουργήσει ένα ταμείο που αποσκοπεί στη βελτίωση των συνθηκών εργασίας και των αποδοχών των εργαζομένων. Για κάθε συσκευή που παράγεται εκεί, η εταιρεία και το εργοστάσιο επενδύουν από 2,5 ευρώ στο ταμείο. Παράλληλα, η εταιρεία προσπαθεί να διατηρεί όσο το δυνατόν μεγαλύτερη διαφάνεια δημοσιεύοντας τακτικές αξιολογήσεις του εργοστασίου.

Το τηλέφωνο υιοθετεί τα πιο συνήθη πρότυπα, όπως λειτουργικό Android και θύρα micro-USB  (ο φορτιστής μάλιστα δεν περιλαμβάνεται στο πακέτο με τη λογική πως κάθε νοικοκυριό έχει από ένα σε κάποιο συρτάρι), ενώ διαθέτει υποδοχή για 2 κάρτες SIM και αποσπώμενη μπαταρία. Μπορεί να αναβαθμιστεί, να επισκευαστεί (πρόβλημα: πρέπει να σταλεί στην Ολλανδία) και, όταν έρθει η ώρα, να ανακυκλωθεί αφού ταχυδρομηθεί δωρεάν στην εταιρεία. Τα πάντα είναι σχεδιασμένα με γνώμονα τον περιορισμό των απορριμμάτων. Υπολογίζεται πως περίπου 140 εκατομμύρια συσκευές καταλήγουν σε χωματερές κάθε χρόνο μόνο στις ΗΠΑ.

«Μου αρέσει αυτή η λογική. Οπως στα παλιά desktop, που τα άνοιγες, τους άλλαζες τη μητρική, τους έκανες αναβάθμιση, ή τους έβαζες μνήμη μόνος σου», λέει ο Κατσαμάνης.

Δίκαιη οικονομία

Από τα γραφεία της εταιρείας στο Αμστερνταμ, η υπεύθυνη επικοινωνίας Daria Koreniushkina δεν κρύβει τον ενθουσιασμό της για το πρότζεκτ. Μετά από μια επιτυχημένη εκστρατεία crowdfunding, η εταιρεία έχει πλέον διαθέσει πάνω από 55.000 συσκευές μέσα σε 1,5 χρόνο. Ομως το κινητό δεν είναι ο σκοπός αυτός καθαυτός, διευκρινίζει η Ρωσίδα, ένα από τα 31 άτομα του προσωπικού που κατάγονται από 14 χώρες.

«Το τηλέφωνο είναι περισσότερο ένα μέσο για να αφηγηθούμε μια ιστορία. Μιλάει για τη μεγάλη εικόνα, για το τι συμβαίνει στο εσωτερικό μιας συσκευής, την περίπλοκη διαδικασία παραγωγής και τα προβλήματα που σχετίζονται με αυτή», λέει.

«Ο απώτερος σκοπός μας είναι να δημιουργήσουμε μια πιο δίκαιη οικονομία και το παράδειγμά μας να εμπνεύσει ολόκληρη τη βιομηχανία να κάνει αλλαγές στην εφοδιαστική αλυσίδα».

Νόμος που υπεγράφη από την κυβέρνηση Ομπάμα το 2010, υποχρεώνει τις αμερικανικές εταιρείες να αναφέρουν την προέλευση των ορυκτών που χρησιμοποιούν στα προϊόντα τους, ενώ ένα σύστημα ιχνηλασιμότητας έχει τεθεί σε ισχύ από τα Ηνωμένα Εθνη. Εταιρείες όπως η Apple και η Samsung έχουν κάνει κάποια βήματα προς αυτή την κατεύθυνση, όμως ισχυρίζονται πως η πιστοποίηση της προέλευσης δεν είναι πάντα εφικτή λόγω των πολλών μεσαζόντων στη διαδικασία παραγωγής.

«Αντιλαμβανόμαστε πως αυτή τη στιγμή είμαστε πολύ μικροί και πως δεν μπορούμε να ανατρέψουμε την κατάσταση από μόνοι μας. Μακάρι κι άλλες εταιρείες να συνδράμουν στην προσπάθεια. Θα σήμαινε πως έχουμε ολοκληρώσει την αποστολή μας», λέει η Koreniushkina.

Δεν σημαίνει πως και η Fairphone θα γινόταν, κατά κάποιο τρόπο, περιττή;

«Οταν και άλλες εταιρείες αρχίσουν να κατασκευάζουν τα δικά τους “ηθικά” κινητά τότε θα τις ανταγωνιστούμε με όρους “ηθικών” προδιαγραφών και όχι με όρους μεριδίου αγοράς» λέει, προσθέτοντας πως η κατασκευή ενός 100% ηθικού κινητού είναι πρακτικά αδύνατη, καθώς υπάρχουν χιλιάδες προδιαγραφές που μπορούν να βελτιωθούν.

Αποτελεί το Fairphone επιλογή πολυτελείας για ευκατάστατους δυτικούς χωρίς ουσιαστικά ζητήματα επιβίωσης;

«Ενα από τα πράγματα που θέλουμε να αποδείξουμε είναι ότι η “ηθική” παραγωγή δεν είναι απαραίτητα πιο ακριβή.

Το Fairphone δεν είναι ακριβότερο από τα άλλα κινητά μεσαίας κατηγορίας» λέει η Koreniushkina. Η τιμή του τηλεφώνου, που είναι διαθέσιμο μόνο στην Ευρώπη, είναι 325 ευρώ. Πίσω στην Αθήνα, ο Κατσαμάνης θεωρεί πως η οικονομική κρίση δεν αποτελεί εμπόδιο στην επιτυχία του κινητού.

«Δεν νομίζω πως τα πράγματα θα ήταν διαφορετικά αν ο κόσμος ήταν πιο άνετος. Αντίθετα, η κρίση θα μπορούσε να προβληματίσει κάποιους, να σκεφτούν ότι το πραγματικό κόστος δεν είναι η τιμή του κινητού. Η ουσία είναι να σκεφτείς τα πράγματα αλυσιδωτά, σε ένα παγκόσμιο πλαίσιο».

Κοιτώντας τα νούμερα, λίγοι φαίνεται να το κάνουν. Μόλις 21 παραγγελίες έχουν γίνει από την Ελλάδα μέχρι σήμερα.

Local innovators try to navigate their way out of Greek mess

By Harry van Versendaal

AthensBook made a name for itself in 2009 as a free mobile phone application that served busy urbanites lost in the asphalt jungle of the Greek capital with easy-to-use, real-time location-based data: open pharmacies in the neighborhood, the cheapest gas stations and nearest on-duty hospitals — all at the tap of a touchscreen.

Three years and 145,000 downloads later, the two friends and business partners behind the project, 30-somethings Dimosthenis Kaponis and Yorgos Panzaris, are hoping to make fresh ripples in the local app ecosystem by unveiling an update that provides users with better, richer and more “social” content.

But the overall aim has not changed.

“Our goal is to provide the information people actually need while on the go,” said Kaponis from the team’s brand-new offices in Halandri, a leafy suburb in northeastern Athens. “This does not mean stuffing hundreds of mostly unused and irrelevant bits of information inside a database and serving those. Our vision lies in evaluating and providing exactly what every single one of our users needs, without them worrying too much about it,” he added.

AthensBook is available on iOS and Android, and it will soon be available in Windows 8 for tablet devices, after being selected as one of the very few companies that partnered with Microsoft in order to provide locally valuable applications for its new operating system.

Using one of those gadgets, you can now find your closest watering hole, order home delivery from the most popular pizza parlors, see what museums and archaeological sites are open, avoid traffic and even watch movie trailers with a few swipes of your finger.

Beyond the valley

AthensBook is one of an estimated 2 million apps worldwide that will be available for download by the end of 2012. A stunning 15,000 apps are released every year, far more than any other type of media — a factor that makes its success all the more remarkable.

Greece, of course, is another.

In spite of repeated pledges by politicians here to improve the notoriously hostile business environment, the country remains riddled with disincentives. Start-ups have to grapple with eye-popping bureaucracy, complex legislation and an erratic tax system. A recent report by McKinsey & Company described the Greek economy as “chronically suffering from unfavorable conditions for business.”

Kaponis puts it more mildly. “There are significant obstacles to the creation of a powerful, capable, world-class high-tech community,” he said. With the economy in its fifth year of recession, youth unemployment has skyrocketed above 50 percent.

Like many of their tech-savvy peers, the creators of AthensBook have both spent considerable quality time outside Greece. Kaponis got his M.Eng in information systems engineering from Imperial College and started a doctorate on distributed artificial intelligence at the London-based institution. He soon left his doctorate program and returned to Greece to start Cosmical Technology, providing consulting and development services to businesses. Panzaris studied electrical and computer engineering at the National Technical University of Athens (NTUA) and later turned to the humanities, getting a master’s in education from Harvard and a PhD on the history of technology from Stanford.

Add it up

The two friends, who met in the local blogosphere, came up with the idea for AthensBook in 2008. A few months later, the app was launched on an experimental basis. At the time, location-based products and services were no more than coffeehouse fodder. Similarly, location-based advertising, which relies on global positioning satellites and the triangulation of cell base stations by mobile operators to pinpoint location, was still in the offing.

“In 2008 extremely few companies were aware of mobile marketing that did not include your standard run-of-the mill SMS-based campaigns, or primitive — by smartphone standards — WAP sites,” Kaponis explained. Even advertising agencies specializing in digital media, largely Internet and mobile advertising, were just exploring the possibilities at that time, he says.

Convincing admen to take a risk on an unknown entity was an early challenge, but the two developers were fortunate to have created a pioneering service that was affordable enough for large businesses to try.

“The fact that we were bootstrapped made expanding our company harder, which in turn affected the product development rate,” Kaponis said. That probably wouldn’t have been much of an issue, he added, had they started their company in a more developed market with a better understanding of the high-tech sector.

To make matters worse, Greece was soon to be rocked by a severe debt crisis that also hit their sole source of revenue: ads. Total advertising spend has over the past three years shrunk to a small fraction of what it was in the late 2000s.

Nevertheless, “it wasn’t all bad,” Kaponis said, as web and mobile have lured a considerable chunk of ad money away from traditional media such as print, radio and television.

Personal touch

The latest edition of AthensBook features a smooth interface that connects to tens of thousands of venues including a full-featured cinema guide, restaurant guide, lists of nightlife venues, public services, museums and attractions, public transport information, taxi services, and live traffic information for the broader Athens area. To this end, the creators have made partnerships for premium, quality content like, for example, Infotrip for traffic data and for restaurant reviews.

A Thessaloniki version, ThessBook, is also available.

Apart from upgrading content, the two developers have also tweaked the nature of the app to keep up with the web’s gradual shift to more user-generated, social content. The app now offers more social and lifestyle functionality, including user reviews, tips, and ratings. “The aim is to provide a more personal, smart and useful experience, rather than the more generic, utilitarian function it originally served,” Kaponis said.

Like most young Greek entrepreneurs, the two work with an eye fixed on what is going on outside the country. Despite the growing interest, the local market is uncomfortably small, or simply unwelcoming, for Greek start-ups that have never quite produced a blockbuster hit of Pinterest or Tumblr proportions. A very small number have managed to raise capital beyond seed level. “The human capital in Greece is a mixed bag: There are many people that are talented, ambitious and willing to work hard but who are tainted by a subpar education system and the nonexistence of an industry capable and willing to absorb them,” Kaponis said.

He and Panzaris have held discussions with a number of investors and potential partners, also from abroad, with the aim of creating useful, personal guides for cities around the world. They hope to release their first non-Greek guide in the near future.

They know that success in the digital media can be uncomfortably short-lived. Much bigger companies have risen and fallen in a very short time span. Kaponis and Panzaris say they make sure they keep their feet on the ground, but still try to mix pragmatism with a healthy dose of idealism. “AthensBook is a commercial product, so commercial success is always an important part of the equation,” Kaponis said. Their passion, however, he added, has always been to provide the best possible service and product, braving the very limited resources and difficulties of doing it here. “There is a rush associated with working on a product that is innovative, and, above all, truly useful to thousands or millions of people.”

Jobs for the future

By Harry van Versendaal

Frankie is 3. The other day, he was trying to scroll down an old family photo, swiping his fingers on the print.

This, of course, is all thanks to a charismatic guy from California with a queer penchant for black turtlenecks — quite a surprise from the man behind some of the sleekest gadgets produced over the past decade.

Millions of people out there received the news of Steve Jobs’s death on one of the devices that he invented. His death, following a long battle with pancreatic cancer, sparked a frenzy in the social media — even the resurrection of the Greek prime minister, who saw fit to tweet about the news.

Public reactions to the news were, in many cases, grossly out of proportion. But again, there are people out there who put their names on months-long waiting lists and camp outside Apple stores through the night hoping to be the first in line to put their hands on every new iPhone or iPad. But Jobs was not to blame for the madness.

Apple’s co-founder was a technological and marketing genius, for sure. But the key to the company’s success lies elsewhere. Jobs understood that a soulless device can be cool but also functional. Apple products became the digital reincarnation of the Bauhaus “form follows function” principle. Navigating cyberspace on an iPad touch screen is so natural and intuitive, the machine feels like an extension of your fingers. Jobs invested in building a personal relationship between the human and the machine, elevating use into an “experience.” According to a recent BBC study, Apple imagery causes a religious experience in the brains of devotees.

More importantly, perhaps, Jobs turned an entire business paradigm on its head, forcing giants in the media and music industry to adhere to his whim. By launching the iTunes and App Store, he redefined the music and smartphone markets. Turning a deaf ear to criticism, he killed the floppy disk drive and went on to ring the death knell for the DVD and the mouse. Jobs put the Internet into our pockets. And, yes, he created new needs, by always being a step ahead. As he, somewhat provocatively, put it, “it isn’t the consumers’ job to know what they want.”

Was Jobs a narcissist and an authoritarian? Most probably. But he did manage to acquire cult leader status without making the promise of an afterlife — quite a unique achievement in human history.

Did he change our world for the better? People will never agree on that. Did he change it, however? A 3-year-old boy holds the answer.

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