04 June 2014
Modular smartphones are coming, and there is little that manufacturers of traditional mobiles can do to stop them. Soon the concept of buying a handset which cannot be reconfigured and upgraded to the user’s specifications will seem terribly archaic. While you may not be familiar with the concept of modular mobiles, this is something that several companies are looking into at the moment, with start-ups such as Phonebloks attracting the attention of Google. So what could the modular approach to building handsets offer consumers and will mainstream success really result from these early innovations?
We have become accustomed to buying a phone roughly once every two years, using pay-monthly contracts to upgrade to a brand new device, thus rendering the old mobile completely obsolete. This creates a cycle of electronic waste and means that consumers are also getting a bad deal, because upgrades tend to be iterative and only a few pieces of hardware may actually be improved. But the rigid nature of mobile design means that total replacement is the only route available. Companies such as Phonebloks are adopting a different approach, choosing to create smartphones which are built to allow for components to be upgraded individually. So, for example, you could keep the same display for many years, but simply swap out the processor, add more RAM or even boost the onboard camera with a new lens and sensor without having to throw everything else away. Aside from the obvious benefits this could deliver in terms of value for the consumer, it will also make mobiles more sustainable by eliminating much of the waste that is currently endemic to the industry. Mobile fans could also upgrade their handset much more regularly than they do at the moment and still pay a reasonable price for a spec boost. Phonebloks has a number of major partners, including Cyso and Motorola, as well as a means for fans to contribute via forums or even donate to the project to help get it off the ground. Of course, the support of Google has seen the Phonebloks concept really take off under the name of Project Ara. And current reports suggest that the first modular smartphone could go on sale as early as 2015, with a starting price of just $50 (£30) mooted.
With modular phones, one of the key concerns for consumers will of course be design. We are used to seeing all-in-one devices with a cohesive exterior unbroken by any compartments and generally unadorned, but this will have to change when modular phones become the norm. Ideally, these manufacturers will turn to personalised phone case solutions to help keep all the components contained and protected. And this could also help to put an individual stamp on handsets which might otherwise look a little cobbled together and generic. Customised phone cases will have to keep up with the modular movement, because shifting handset sizes which occur when screen modules are upgraded will need to be taken into account. The real consumer benefits will come from modular smartphones being open-source, enabling any manufacturer to create components which can be bolted on to augment performance and features. And it could end the dominance that a handful of big firms have in the industry.
So if you're looking for other DIY products made by you to go alongside your phone, check out our blog posts for ideas!
Kimberley Rogers on Wednesday, June 04, 2014 · Leave a Comment
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