While automotive and smartphone industries seem like separate entities with few common shared spaces except for infotainment synchronization with phones, there are lots of advancements in materials research at Ford Motor Company that could be applied to smartphones. One of the key areas that Ford is pushing forward is eco-friendly, and the company has marked ‘eco-psychology’ as a leading trend for 2012 where consumers are increasingly choosing greener options. As such, not only is Ford advancing technologies for its hybrid and electric vehicle (EV) fleet, but also developing more sustainable materials for use within the cabins of its leading cars, many of which can be applied to other industries, including mobility. Some of these materials can serve to help make smartphones, tablets, ultrabooks, notebooks, and our beloved media players even more sustainable and environmentally friendly.
This is especially important today as the smartphone market is starting to accelerate and consumers are looking to companies to create a premium experience. Apple has in the past proclaimed the highly recyclable materials of its glass and metal construction on its products while other companies such as HTC and Nokia are focusing on unibody polycarbonate on their flagship models. Samsung, which has been criticized in the past for having a ‘cheap plastic’ feel on its flagship Galaxy products, has also recently turned to polycarbonate to deliver a more premium experience. However, as Ford had shown during its ‘Forward with Ford’ trends conference, there are other materials available and the company has invested a lot of money to deliver alternatives to providing a good user experience–in Ford’s case, in cars–while helping to conserve the earth.
Ford’s been exploring with recycled currency, corns and other bio-products, recycled tires and plastic products, and materials from natural products, such as wheat and coconut fibers.
In the U.S. market, we’ve seen some eco-friendly smartphones being embraced with limited success. Green carrier Sprint had introduced the Samsung Replenish, an eco-friendly Android smartphone, but there are still constraints that hinder adoption in the mobile market right now. With the Replenish, consumers are still being tasked with making a choice between a device with high-end specs versus a green phone with mid-range specs. If you want the latest processing power and speed and a high resolution display, you’d have to choose from one of Samsung’s Galaxy models on Sprint’s network, but if you cared more about the earth, then you’d choose the Replenish.
This is a fallacy as Ford says, as part of its trends research, that design should be accessible. Not only are consumers choosing green products, but these designs should be available to a mass market. If Samsung instituted eco-friendly and bio materials for use in plastics on its phones on more popular flagship models, then there is a greater sustainable impact.
The good part is that Ford is licensing its technologies and research to other companies. Coca Cola and Heiz–the ketchup company–are both licensing Ford’s bio-plastics for use on their plastic bottles. It’d be interesting to see how bio-plastics will hold up over time and if they will eventually make their way over to smartphones.