OPINION: The Circular subscription service launched by Nokia is a promising initiative, but can manufacturers go even further to care for the lifecycle of their products?

Technology grants us so many new possibilities, and nowhere is that more clear than in the development of the smartphone over the years, a product that is now so omnipresent that it’s hard to imagine life without it.

However, there are obvious downsides to there being such a glut of tech devices around, and one of the biggest is surely the environmental impact. We might like to keep this away from the forefront of our minds, but the truth is that the plastic, glass, and rare metals involved in the manufacturing of these handsets often have a negative effect on the wellbeing of our planet, which is only intensified when consumers choose to upgrade them on a regular basis.

This year at IFA, HMD Global (Nokia’s parent company) unveiled its own solution to this undoubtedly tricky problem with the launch of a new subscription service called Circular. Under its terms, you could pay a monthly fee for the phone, and in result you’ll be rewarded with points every six months that you can invest in environmental causes, and at the end of the scheme the phone will be recycled, refurbished, or donated.

It’s worth noting that Nokia’s commitment to the environment doesn’t just begin and end with this scheme; its newest handset, the Nokia X30 5G, has a 100% recycled aluminium chassis, and 65% recycled rear cover, while its reduced packaging includes a 100% FSE certified box that’s made of 75% recycled materials. It’s built to last as well, with an IP67 rating against water and dust ingress, and a durable Gorilla Glass Victus screen.

This scheme is a highly positive innovation that will hopefully draw more attention to the sustainability problem among smartphones, and what’s especially refreshing is to see a manufacturer step up to the plate and claim responsibility for the entire lifecycle of its product rather than washing its hands of it once the sale goes through. However, this programme is just a start, and we hope to see more steps taken along this path in the near future.

One potential drawback is that Nokia’s phones will still have somewhat limited software support. While the X30 will get three years of monthly security updates and three full operating system updates, it seems that the support will come to an end after that, meaning you’ll likely have to get a new phone if you want it to be as secure as possible.

This three year plan is by no means unusual among Android manufacturers – in fact, it’s pretty decent by those standards, and it’s good to see Nokia being up front from the start about its future support – but it pales in comparison to Apple’s track record. For example, the iPhone 6s, launched all the way back in September 2015, will only miss out on a new operating system upgrade for the first time this year, as iOS 16 will not run on the handset.

To be fair, Android OEMs have only recently begun taking this issue seriously, and even the top-of-the-range Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra (which costs over $1000/£1000) is still limited to four years of major Android software updates, so we’ll be keeping our eyes peeled over the coming months in the hope of across-the-board improvements on this score.

The other potential pitfall is that this scheme, which uses charitable donations as its hook to draw customers in, is likely to appeal most of all to those who are already conscious about the environment and do their bit to curb the excesses of consumerism; Circular may well struggle to attract customers who are indifferent or uncaring, and yet this is exactly the constituency that matters most if we’re to see significant change across the industry.

For the reasons given above, Circular is a very refreshing new initiative from a major manufacturer that is pointing the whole industry in the right direction, and I wish it all the best; however, it is just a start. If we’re too see an even greater impact then I’d like to see longer software support put in place, along with an incentives scheme that can reach out and touch an even wider audience.

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