On October 6, 2020, the Government of India approved 16 applicants under the Production Linked Incentive (PLI) scheme. The PLI scheme offers a 4%-6% incentive on incremental sales of goods manufactured in India, for 5 years starting from FY 20-21. Among the companies selected, 3 are Apple contact manufacturers while others are various Android manufacturers. The split is beneficial primarily because Apple accounts for almost 37% of global sales revenue while Samsung accounts for almost 22%. So, this should seriously boost the manufacturing capabilities of smartphones in India, making India a competitor to China’s almost monopoly.
Beyond this awesomeness of the scheme, there is another linked area that the Government should be seriously looking into, maybe should have attached it to the PLI scheme itself.
India is home to almost half a billion smartphone users or 500,000,000 devices. Beyond smartphones, there are tons of other smart consumer devices like laptops, tablets, televisions, smart displays, etc. This makes India one of the largest consumers of electronics devices in the world. This also makes India one of the largest creators of e-waste in the world. Let’s look at how this is brought about by forced obsolescence – most of which is preventable and worth the time.
Android, iOS, and Windows are the largest Operating Systems (OS) players in the consumer devices segment. In India, considering all devices, the market share of OS’ are
OS’ Market Share – All Devices (StatCounter.com)
Now, let’s look at the device that has the shortest shelf life among these – the smartphone. In the smartphone segment, the market share is completely dominated by Android in India. The market share of OS’ are
OS’ Market Share – Smartphones (StatCounter.com)
Based on the data above, a reasonable deduction would be that the shelf life of smartphones in India is almost completely dictated by Android device makers. So, now let’s dig deep in that segment. When we tried to find research around this, we came across two sets of statistics from two different sources that represent the market very closely. So, let’s look at the two data sets
Smartphone Market Share by Vendor (StatCounter.com)
Smartphone Market Share by Vendor (Counterpoint Research)
These two sets of data may reflect the market share differently, but they align in the same direction, and therein lies the responsibility of the longevity of these devices.
Let’s merge all the market share data from above with another interesting piece of data and it would be easy to co-relate the effect of these manufacturers.
OS Upgrades by Vendor (AOSMark)
So, what do these scores mean? Per AOSMark, the way to interpret a score is
“The score is roughly the number of Android OS upgrades you should expect from an OEM excluding the initial version with which a device is launched. For example, Sony with a score of 1.63 will probably send 2 Android OS updates to their flagship phones and 1 Android OS update to their budget phones, where as LG with a score of 0.83 will probably send 1 Android OS update to their flagship phones and none to their budget phones.”
Herein lies the problem. Most Android manufacturers do not provide OS updates for long, some none. Even when the vendor provides these OS updates, they are delayed by months for low-end devices. Most devices do not even receive the monthly security patches on their Android devices. The list of Android devices that do receive the patches directly is so small that they could be in lower single-digit percentages. Compare that to Apple devices and you see the stark difference – iOS devices not only receive every update but also receive OS updates for 5 years or more.
The absolute majority of Android devices in the wild, that don’t receive OS updates or security updates timely or at all create these issues
- eWaste – When users are looking for the latest features, they have no option than to upgrade. This causes completely healthy devices to be dumped purely for software inadequacies.
- Security – We have mentioned this second due to sustainability but change the outlook and this could be a way bigger issue. Think of this – millions of unpatched devices in the wild, ready to be misused by rouge organizations or states. What a security nightmare that could be, especially in a country where users have very little awareness about data privacy or data security.
- Health – eWaste management is still in nascent stages in India and most of the precious metals recovered are through burning away the less desired materials. This is not only wasteful but also very harmful and burning a lot of plastics and glue and battery materials generate harmful and poisonous gases.
So, what is the solution? The long-term solution is recycling as much as possible. We also need highly efficient recycling methods to reduce the wastage as well as release to the environment. However, that is an ongoing struggle and research is in progress to improve the recycling percentage.
However, the Government of India should proactively consider eWaste in all its proposals to contain it as much as possible before the problem goes out of hand. The potential ways this could be achieved is
- Mandate smartphone manufacturers (think PLI) to provide longer and proactive software support for all devices and not only the premium line. Smartphones should have a mandate of providing OS updates for 4 years and security updates for 5 years when sold to Indian markets.
- Any device manufacturer, even TVs, tablets, etc., should be brought under a similar purview. This would even prevent fraudulent manufacturers from making flash sales and disappearing.
- Create awareness around eWaste so that people either hold on to their devices or dispose of them properly instead of just trashing them.
- Incentivize the creation of eWaste collection and recycling centers so that startups and private entities could take up this challenge and reduce the burden from the Government.
What other innovative solutions do you have? Write to us or let us know in the comments section.