New research suggests demand for environmentally-friendly devices will power sales of "green" phones in the coming years. A recent study by ABI Research found that nearly half of U.S. consumers would choose a green handset over a conventional phone if price, features and performance were the same.
ABI estimates the proportion of properly recycled handsets will grow from 8% in 2009 to 17% in 2014. A separate Juniper report predicts that even with an incremental shift in consumer attitudes, shipments of green phones will grow from 250,000 in 2009 to 105 million by 2014.
But how many people really take environmental factors into consideration when buying a cell phone? Sorting out myriad phones according to manufacturer, price, wireless provider, calling plans and a growing list of features is challenging enough to begin with. And at the low end, users mainly want a cheap phone that works. At the high end, they may want a specific smartphone like the iPhone or the BlackBerry Curve.
Green choices don't come into play the way the do in more established sectors like consumer packaged goods or autos. That's partly because handset makers so far aren't trying to compete on environmental factors, focusing instead on more fundamental phone differences as they scramble for market share in a shifting mobile landscape.
Samsung's Reclaim from Sprint has probably been the most aggressively marketed green phone to date in the U.S., starting with its name and green color. Made from 80% recyclable material and released in August, Current Analysis called it the first eco-phone people may actually want to buy. But I can't say I've seen a lot of people walking around with the green handsets pressed up to their ears.
Even if the Reclaim is meeting or beating sales expectations, it would be hard to separate its success from qualities that would make it a good phone even if it were made out of regular plastic. Apart from any regulatory or legal requirements, it's not likely manufacturers will focus more on environmental considerations until they see them as an important differentiating factor for consumers. That could take the green equivalent of the iPhone.