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Motorola and Phonebloks show modular phone concepts

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 Phonebloks 29th October 2013

A modern mobile phone is powerful, expensive and almost completely impossible to upgrade or repair. So, as a possible solution to this both Motorola and a startup called Phonebloks have been looking at a solution to the problem independently, and have come up with two very similar concepts.

Phonebloks was the first to announce their concept of a modular device where you could swap out every component, including the processor, camera and even screen and keyboard. The idea here is that all sorts of manufacturers could make Phonebloks compatible components, and users could choose whichever module they wanted.

At the same time, Motorola has been working on Project Ara which is a sleeker (although perhaps less flexible) solution which is also open to many manufacturers, and acts as an extension to some of the concepts offered by the Android operating system.

Although similar in fundamental approach, the Phonebloks concept seems more geared to hobbyists who might also like to tinker with a Raspberry Pi, the Motorola solution doesn't seem to be quite so modular but is more pleasing to look at, however the good news is that both groups appear to be willing to work together.

 Motorola Project Ara The idea sounds like a lot of fun, and it might be a very good solution to the problem of smartphones that become obsolete very quickly or might need an upgrade to remain competitive. But there are some problems..

The biggest issue is going to be the physical size of the modular smartphone itself. Modern smartphone squeeze their components in as tightly as possible, because saving a few millimetres here and can either make the device smaller or it can mean another feature can be squeezed in. The modular design of Phonebloks and Ara is less space efficient than that, and inevitably it means that phones will tend to be bigger or have less features in the same space.

Then there's the issue of getting all the bits of hardware to work together. Both of these concepts are more like a desktop PC where you can replace pretty much everything, and like a PC the software needs to be able to support all the different components without falling over all the time. Manufacturers have enough problems with it is, sometimes supporting only a tiny handset of handset variations which they struggle to keep up-to-date with software.

 Motorola Project Ara


And finally.. a similar idea has been tried before with the modu phone and add-on jackets which offered a somewhat similar level of flexibility but little market success. These new modular concepts will have to attract a large enough customer base to make them viable, but is certainly good to see people giving this radical new format a go.

Neither of these concepts is close to producing an actual device, but perhaps the phone after your next phone might well come in little pieces.


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