The lifespan of mobile phones is getting very short, and CTIA is packed with evidence to prove it. When I met with HTC at CES in January, they had an array of eight handsets to show off, most of which had only been released into the market within the last six months.
Now, just two months later, HTC has added four new high-end smartphones that put the entire batch that I saw in January to shame. Smartphones only remain on the cutting edge for a matter of weeks before they're usurped by the latest hot device. In the case of Android, sometimes it's only a matter of days.
When your phone draws close to the end of your two-year contract, it may seem old and worn when compared to the hot new devices. But its constituent parts have a much longer lifespan and retain a very high value.
The lens in your iPhone camera, for example, can fetch as much as $200 in the second-hand market. All those high-megapixel cameraphones with Karl Zeiss optics that were released in 2008 retain quite a bit of resale value for the camera parts alone.
In short, many high-end smartphones are worth nearly as much now as they were at launch.
I had a chance to sit down and chat with CBM Wireless Group (CWG), a consortium of companies that reconditions, recycles, and repurposes old mobile devices. From what they told me, it appears the second-hand business is thriving.
And why shouldn't it be? More than a billion phones are taken out of circulation every year already, and now that the lifespan of individual devices is shortening to just a single year in many cases, there is a lot of hardware to reclaim.
While a strong recycling policy is ultimately better for the environment, companies are jumping into recycling for reasons far beyond the "green" buzzwords. It's very profitable.
So what does CWG recycle? In short, everything. They buy back used handsets from OEMs and wireless carriers in any condition. If they can be brought back to working condition, they wipe all data, replace the broken parts, and send them back into the market. If they aren't reusable as a complete unit, they're broken down into desirable parts and resold back to manufacturers, repair shops, and the carriers. And that's not just the major parts, like keyboards, screens, and chipsets; they reclaim individual parts less than a single square millimeter in size. Everything else is then destroyed, and the case of many plastic components, turned into a new, composite recycled plastic.
So if we're going to be ditching our year-old phones en masse for the new EVO 4G this summer, its good to know that recycling them will be as good for the economy as it is for the environment.