Samsung has announced a new program to help people repurpose their old Galaxy phones into smart home devices in the hopes that you’ll continue buying the new smartphones it releases every few months — one of which it may have inadvertently leaked ahead of time.
We’re more than a decade into the smartphone revolution and chances are you’re not still on your first one.
Every year, sometimes multiple times throughout, manufacturers push out new devices to show off their technology in an attempt to convince you to upgrade and boost their sales: Samsung is expected to unveil the new Galaxy S21 alongside other devices on Friday.
In a video during the all-digital Consumer Electronics Show 2021, Samsung may have accidentally revealed that new phone while telling customers about some of the things they can do with their old one.
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Eagle-eyed tech enthusiasts have been pointing out the smartphone that appears in Samsung’s video doesn’t have a front-facing camera, suggesting it could mean new devices will feature an under-display camera that many manufacturers have been rumoured to be working on.
The goal of the under-display camera is to do away with the ugly notches, pinholes and punches that interrupt the otherwise full-face displays of modern smartphones.
The phone appears to also include a stylus like you’d find on a Galaxy Note, although Samsung is reportedly discontinuing that beloved but niche device.
This points further to the device seen in the video being Friday’s Galaxy S21.
The phone appeared during the announcement of a new “up-cycling” program to help you repurpose your old phone into something you can use again.
“You can decide how to repurpose your Galaxy for convenient home devices,” Samsung’s environmental sustainability specialist Sandeep Rana said.
Samsung’s provided examples include using your old phone to create a baby monitor with a sound sensor to tell when your sprog is crying out for attention, or controlling lights and other at-home conveniences for your pets when you’re out of the house.
The methods rely on the Samsung SmartThings app and are secured by Samsung’s Knox security platform.
“Through these programs we want to inspire you to live more sustainably with an easy to achieve, do-it-yourself approach allowing people who want to participate do their part in helping our planet,” Ms Rana added.
Even subtracting the environmental impact of the manufacturing process, the phones and devices we buy shiny and new eventually end up gathering dust somewhere, whether that’s landfill or your home’s designated junk drawer.
Research commissioned by Telstra at the end of last year found two in three Australians have at least one unwanted or unused tech item taking up space in their home.
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In an attempt to perhaps offset some of the impact of pulling rare Earth materials out of the ground to continue making new electronics, technology brands have been working to promote “sustainability” in their operations, such as through Samsung’s new upcycling initiative.
Some of these attempts could raise eyebrows.
In a purported attempt to cut down on e-waste, Apple decided last year it would no longer include the power plug charger in the box for new iPhones, figuring you’d have a plug already from the last iPhone you bought.
The problem is the last iPhone you bought would have almost certainly come with a USB-A power plug, while the new cable included with your phone has a USB-C connection, requiring you to purchase a different plug (or one of the more expensive Magsafe chargers the company introduced at the same time).
Taking the plug out also made the boxes that the phones ship in roughly half the size: We’ll let you do the maths on how much money that saves Apple shipping millions of devices around the world for yourselves (at least until the company files its next annual report).
We might learn on Friday that Samsung will take the same approach with its new phones, as some have predicted and feared, but until then Samsung looks to be going a different route to sustainability, albeit one that might not get it all the way to its destination.
The old adage for saving the environment is for people to “reduce, reuse and recycle”.
They are listed in order of importance and effectiveness.
While Samsung’s new approach is a step ahead of just recycling the parts of the phone that can be recycled, it’s unlikely we’ll see the company leap all the way ahead to the reduction phase given its obligation to shareholders, including the National Pension Service of its home country Korea.