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Fairphone raises the bar with commitment to Android updates

Today Fairphone announced their newest smartphone, the Fairphone 5.

I've been a FP4 user for the last year, and had an FP3+ before that, the FP5 looks like a solid upgrade both in terms of spec and the headlines Fairphone are making with this new device.

They're well known for their focus on sustainability and longevity with a history of devices receiving support for several years - the FP3 (2019 on Android 9.0) just received Android 13, it's 3rd major OS version upgrade over 4 letters (they skipped 12), the FP2 before it saw it's final update on Android 10 in March 2023, 8 years after launch on Android 5.0, Lollipop.

Indeed, even with the odds stacked against them, and loss of support from chipset vendors - the FP3 SOC (Snapdragon 632) didn't support anything over Android 12 and required they take development in-house to keep the updates rolling - the Fairphone team continue to go above and beyond to maintain their growing catalogue of devices.

The brand new Fairphone 5 takes this commitment even further, as the first device Fairphone have guaranteed to support for at least 8 years, with the potential for longer still.

How are they achieving this?

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At this point the FP team have more than a decade of experience building Android devices, so some of this commitment is coming from a place of understanding the OS intimately, but they've definitely been given a bit of a leg up by Qualcomm this time around in the form of the QCM6490, an LTS chipset typically more at home in the rugged/dedicated market powering Zebra, Honeywell, and other enterprise-grade devices.

Qualcomm offers support on their chosen chipsets for several years more than their consumer chip offerings (such as the 632 in the FP3), allowing the Fairphone team to leverage official chipset vendor support for many more years, in theory. It's of course yet to be seen what Android will look like by 19 and the implications this will bring for Qualcomm once the relevant GRFs (Google Requirements Freeze) expire, but FP are certainly building on a solid foundation.

How does this support stack up?

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It is - from what I can see - the longest commitment of support for a consumer Android handset on the market. In a distant second place lies Samsung with 5 years of guaranteed security updates and 4 major OS version releases (later also adopted by OnePlus), Google Pixel with 5 years of security updates but 3 guaranteed OS version upgrades, and Motorola, Nokia (HMD Global) offering 4 years of security updates. Many other OEMs settle on 3 or fewer years of support.

Samsung declared themselves setting the new standard in support longevity for their select models, I think Fairphone is defining a new era.

Are 3 years of updates still relevant?

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At this point it honestly comes across as a bare-minimum commitment.

OEMs offering just 3 years of security updates are basically offering one, maybe two OS version upgrades at a push, and just enough patching to tick a box for minimum viable lifecycle. For consumers with more aggressive hardware cycles (carriers offering annual upgrades, younger generations/enthusiasts swapping more often to keep up trends) it can be argued the effort to reward isn't too skewed, since beyond 3 years of security updates you're catering to a much smaller market. But for enterprise? Not even close.

Organisations for years have far, far outrun this lifecycle, and have suffered the higher TCO associated with replacing devices out of security update support to protect their environments. It's somewhat improved over the older standard 18 months as a typical EoL for software support (around the time MADA started referencing it), but it's long been desired to get this well up towards the 7 year mark.

Fairphone appear to know this; they've partnered up with the likes of Everphone in some markets offering their devices under a DaaS (Device as a Service) model, and have a page dedicated to business for everyone else. They've also put devices through Google's Android Enterprise Recommended validation, so they have a good grasp of what needs to be done to get on the radar.

Organisations get to benefit not only from a device with an immense software lifecycle, but one that comes with the added sustainability and environmental benefits on top, as well as best-in-class repairability for when the inevitable happens.

There's plenty more scope to improve their positioning in enterprise as a go-to vendor, things like custom management capabilities (OEMconfig), complimentary solutions akin to Samsung's eFOTA, software customisation, and more, but for the moment - in just software longevity alone - they're making a compelling case.

I look forward to getting one on test!

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