The question I have is whether Purism’s PCB assembly in house can lead to more volume, so its prices can start to get more competitive with the Chinese ODMs and electronic assemblers. My hope is that the L5USA is just the start and it will lead to Purism trying to do more PCB assembly in house. I would love to see a Librem 14 USA. System76 said in 2019 that it had started working working on designing a made-in-the-USA laptop, but I suspect that System76 has run into problems, because I haven’t heard anything about the project since then.
One possibility is that companies like Purism and System76 that want made-in-the-USA products with supply chain security could join together to do their PCB assembly, in order to have enough volume to justify the investment and to bring down the per unit costs.
Longevity and repairability are the things that most excite me about Linux phones. PINE64 promises to manufacture the PinePhone for 5 years (which will make it the longest manufactured smartphone in history) and already sells replacement parts for the phone. Purism is promising lifetime software updates, and replacement parts for the L5.
Roughly 70% of smartphone repair consists of the replacement of the battery and screen. If something else fails on a smartphone, the standard practice is to junk the phone. Purism already sells replacement batteries, so if the company can sell replacement screens as well, it should be able to cover the majority of repairs.
However, I think that selling replacement boards may be more viable for Purism than for other phone companies, precisely because of the long-term software support. With open source drivers for every component, support in mainline Linux, and Phosh able to take advantage of all the upgrades in GTK/GNOME and its apps in the future, I foresee a very long service life for the L5/L5USA.
One thing that people often overlook are firmware updates, but I think it likely that the L5/L5USA will get firmware updates for longer than any other phone on the market. With NXP promising to manufacture the i.MX 8M Quad till at least Jan. 2033, we should get firmware updates till the mid-2030s. Other parts like the Teseo-LIV3F GNSS and TPS65982 USB Type-C controller, etc. should be manufactured for a long time as well. The only parts where I have doubts about their long-term support are the RS9116 WiFi/BT and BM818 modem, because new standards (802.11ac/ad/ax and 5G) makes it more likely that Silicon Labs and Broadmobi will no longer be manufacturing the chips 5 years from now and no longer offering firmware updates. The silver lining is that these parts are on M.2 cards and are replaceable, so it may be possible to find alternative parts.
I was worried about Purism’s ability to stay in business, but the recent financing round convinces me that Purism will be around for a long time, so I have faith that we will keep getting software updates for the phone. It has cost Purism a lot to develop Phosh, but Purism’s work on mainstream kernel support for the hardware and the design of Phosh as a thin overlay on top of standard GTK/GNOME, and the re-use of the standard GNOME applications means that it will be very economical for Purism to offer software updates in the future. Even if the Purism goes out of business or stops supporting the phone, there is a good chance that a community will arise to keep offering software updates for the device, because it is so easy to maintain compared to other phones.
What that means is that if one of the boards dies in the L5/L5USA, you are more likely to want to replace the board and keep using the device, rather than junk it to buy a newer phone. With every other phone on the market (except for the PinePhone), there isn’t much reason to fix it if its PCB dies, but the calculation is very different with a device that gets lifetime software updates.
It is questionable whether people will want to keep using a heavy, bulky phone with a weak processor 5 years from now. However, I look at how long people have used the N900, so I think that there will still be people who want replacement parts for the phone in the future. I say that because I don’t think that Purism, Mobian, and the other distros will allow Phosh to become bloatware that consumes more and more resources with each new version. However, Phosh depends on the GTK/GNOME libraries and an app ecosystem that may require more system resources in the future. The companies that maintain GTK/GNOME (IBM/Red Hat, SUSE, Google and Canonical) aren’t particularly concerned with the limited resources of aging mobile devices.
Oh well, time will tell, but I certainly hope that Purism’s ability to assemble its own PCBs means that we will be able to buy replacement boards for the L5. The other factor is that Purism promises to eventually release the Gerber files after it recovers its investment in designing the L5, so that potentially means that anyone could make replacement boards for the phone.