The Runcible looks beautifully designed and I don’t doubt that it has the potential to offer a unique experience.
The trouble begins with the supposed criticism over the lack of “sustainability” in modern electronics manufacturing. The only “sustainability” presented in their product is the wood back. No mention of the electronics or the source of those materials, the labor, mining source, economic and trade conditions being sustainable. Or at the very least transparent.
Electronics with Values
The fairphone isn’t sexy but at least it does a better job at addressing issues of efficacy and transparency. Given it’s more realistic approach to modularity and repairability, it would seem the fairphone would give you a more useful long term product. Perhaps not as aesthetically appealing, but the device and its manufacturing address the nature of built in obsolescence and disposable electronics. It does so in a more meaningful way than “heirloom” every will.
A small point of contention also comes from the description of reclaimed plastics from shorelines as “fished from the Great Pacific Plastic Island.” That description seems to lend even greater emphasis to the devices “sustainable” credentials. The source of the material is most likely a company like Envision Plastics, who reclaims the material from beaches, either washed up or collected before it can reach the water. It’s a small distinction but important. The use of ocean born plastic waste in recycled products is laudable. But the emphasis in the advertising on the “Great Pacific Plastic Island” as the source of the material suggests it’s not about the sustainability, since collecting plastic from the pacific garbage patch isn’t sustainable, but the feeling it gives.
A convoluted smartphone is not anti-smartphone. Abstracting out common functions like making a phone call, and requiring additional peripherals (Bluetooth) to make it work isn’t a novel user experience and challenges notions of interaction and engagement, it’s an anti-pattern.
Devices That Last
It is laudable that the device is easy to disassemble and the software is open source. We can only hope to see this in other electronics. But given the electronics involved in this device, this is hardly “repairable” to the vast majority of users (not to mention the fictitious future family member cherishing the device). Especially those who are likely to buy it for the novelty, internet-of-things, experience. Many of the complex electronics we own today are repairable but are made difficult to do so by design and lack of information for those equipt to make the repairs.
The price of finding someone willing to repair it is likely to outweigh just replacing it. I am doubtful that sentimental value will trump convince, assuming the device ever garnered enough affection to warrant the consideration. The theoretical ability to upgrade doesn’t mean there will ever be upgradable parts, especially when manufacturing something with novel shapes.
That’s not to say that there won’t be those who love the runcible enough to continually tinker with the electronics and the source code, but the advertising does not seem aimed at them. The advertising gives the impression that it will be for people looking for a unique aesthetic or novel digital experience. For which it will likely deliver. But early adopters are not the same as makers or electronic aficionados.
The Value of Nostalgia
Which, in the end, makes the “heirloom” notion of this device, absurd. The use of the phrase seems to play more heavily on the value of nostalgia than the qualities of long-term reliability and usability.
Maybe I have focused too much on the phrase “Heirloom Electronic”. What makes something heirloom is more than anything addressed in the video or in my post. It’s an emotional and historical connection to an object. Objects with a sense of history, and a place in time, for an individual or individuals who will cherish that experience. In the same vein, sustainable long lasting electronics are more than just unique designs and materials.
It’s the convolution of these two objectives that fails. One does not solve the other.
I can applaud what product designers are attempting to do in breaking with set conventions, both in materials and design. The Runcible delivers a different approach to living and interacting with electronics in our lives. But finding a solution to the closed source, unrepairable, obsolete, disposable nature of high-cost, high-value electronics, may have to look elsewhere.