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Go read iFixit’s damning take on Samsung’s ‘ruined’ upcycling program

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iFixit says it was sidelined after helping with the original 2017 launch

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A screenshot from Samsung’s 2017 trailer.
Image: Samsung

In a new blog post, iFixit heavily criticizes Samsung’s recently announced Galaxy Upcycling program (via ArsTechnica), an initiative which the repair specialists helped launch in 2017. It’s a damning look at how the initiative morphed from its ambitious origins to a “nearly unrecognizable” final form, and completely sidelined iFixit in the process.

Here’s how iFixit describes the original plan:

The original Upcycling announcement had huge potential. The purpose was twofold: unlock phones’ bootloaders—which would have incidentally assisted other reuse projects like LineageOS—and foster an open source marketplace of applications for makers. You could run any operating system you wanted. It could have made a real dent in the huge and ever-growing e-waste problem by giving older Samsung devices some value (no small feat, that). It was a heck of a lot more interesting than the usual high-level pledges from device makers about carbon offsets and energy numbers.

You can see this original vision on display in a Samsung trailer from 2017 (embedded below). Samsung outlined how an old smartphone could be turned into a sensor for a fish tank, simultaneously re-using an old phone while at the same time helping to stop people from needing to buy a dedicated single-use device. Other potential ideas included turning old phones into smart home controllers, weather stations and nanny cams.

It sounds like a cool initiative, and iFixit was initially heavily involved. It lent its branding to the launch, and its CEO Kyle Wiens helped announce the project onstage at Samsung’s developer conference. It had even planned to expand its support pages and spare parts program for Samsung phones had the project shipped, but...

Instead, we heard crickets. The actual software was never posted. The Samsung team eventually stopped returning our emails. Friends inside the company told us that leadership wasn’t excited about a project that didn’t have a clear product tie-in or revenue plan.

So what’s the problem with the program in its 2021 form? Two things: it only goes back three years to the Galaxy S9, and it only gives it basic smart home functionality. Less, in other words, than what’s possible from a cheap $40 Raspberry Pi.

So instead of an actually-old Galaxy becoming an automatic pet feeder, full-fledged Linux computer, retro game console, a wooden-owl Alexa alternative, or anything else that you or a community of hackers can dream of, the new program will take a phone you can still sell for $160 and turn it into something like a $30 sensor.

Most will have probably just shrugged and moved on when they saw Samsung’s upcycling announcement in January. But it’s disappointing to realize that the project could have been so much more. iFixit’s post is well worth reading in its entirety.