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Phonebloks concept imagines a modular smartphone

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September 16, 2013

Phonebloks is a conceptual smartphone comprising modular components chosen by the consumer

Phonebloks is a conceptual smartphone comprising modular components chosen by the consumer

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We live in a throwaway society, where products often aren't made to last long, and generally aren't easily fixable. Smartphones are a case in point, with the average handset being replaced by its owner within two years. And when that happens, the whole thing is trashed intact and replaced with another, slightly better, model. With the Phonebloks concept, Dave Hakkens plans to change this short-term way of thinking about gadgets.

Dutch designer Hakkens has proposed the Phonebloks concept, which is designed to run counter to the current business model from smartphone manufacturers such as Apple and Samsung. Currently, the average consumer buys a phone, and uses it until it either breaks or is supplanted by a newer model. Then, they either sell it, trade it in, or trash it in favor of buying a brand new handset. Phonebloks tears this notion apart with a simple alternative.

Phonebloks is (or is at least imagined to be) a smartphone made up of modular elements. So, your Phonebloks handset would comprise a display panel of your choosing, a battery pack of your choosing, a memory module of your choosing, and other components selected by you. These would be called bloks, and they would be connected to a universal base which ties all of the separate components together. Each blok would be attached to the base via pins, with two screws holding everything in place.

The Phonebloks bloks would be sold through the Blokstore, a kind of app store for hardware...

This all means that if one individual component breaks it can be replaced without the need to throw away the whole unit and start again from scratch. Likewise, if you want to upgrade an individual component – your camera or your RAM, for example – then you simply buy the relevant blok and embed it in your handset. To achieve this, Hakkens proposes the Blokstore, a kind of app store for hardware on which you can buy and sell bloks made by your favorite brand.

The overriding factor behind Phonebloks is electronic waste, which is a rapidly growing problem. While Phonebloks wouldn't solve the issue outright (as people would still be disposing of some components) it would certainly help ease the situation. A similar proposal for a recyclable laptop was made a few years ago, but people seem to be resistant to change – or perhaps manufacturers are responsible for the lack of enthusiasm.

Phonebloks components would all fit together snugly on the universal base

Phonebloks is just a concept at present, but it's one that has been met with considerable interest from consumers around the world. Hakkens is currently asking people to support the notion of Phonebloks with a campaign on Thunderclap, and the short video embedded below details the effort.

Unfortunately, consumer demand will not be enough to make Phonebloks a reality, with hardware partners an absolute necessity if this is ever going to move from the drawing board to the real world. Still, it's a great idea that deserves some attention.

Source: Phonebloks

About the Author
Dave Parrack Dave is a technology journalist with a ravenous appetite for gadgets, gizmos, and gubbins. He's based in the U.K., and from his center of operations writes about all facets of modern and future technology. He has learned more in his five years writing for the Web than he did in 11 years at school, and with none of the boring subjects thrown in to the mix.   All articles by Dave Parrack
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12 Comments

Looks like a physical embodiment of Windows 8. :o)

Anne Ominous
16th September, 2013 @ 04:22 pm PDT

The whole world is going Lego! Modular like desktops of old only more so. Microsoft should fund this since the layout looks like the Windows 8 tiles motif.

cfg83
16th September, 2013 @ 09:27 pm PDT

Its surprising what you can build from Lego, but few would suggest it as a viable option for the real thing. Desktop PCs are modular, did that reduce waste? Mobile devices are all about cramming as much as possible into as small a space as possible, this phone would be closer in size to a notebook PC with all the connectors and packaging, and given the limited connections between modules the performance would be pedestrian.

winzurf
17th September, 2013 @ 03:34 am PDT

It's a rather old concept.

I have seen very similar project a couple of years ago. Of course, no success since then...

It also against the trend of consuming oriented economy. The current trend is to build devices that are practically disposable (on one hand because of their purposely low build quality and unreliable/untested design, on the other hand because of the over-driven "competition" to release new devices sooner and manipulating people to buy new gadgets every year...

ActiveGuitar
17th September, 2013 @ 09:32 am PDT

All those connectors could simply add weight, complexity and more opportunities for component failure.

Bruce Crosby
17th September, 2013 @ 10:21 am PDT

What about increased packaging for individual modules? logistics for shipping, stocks? Or will these be mailed direct to buyers? Or just offered as direct printable phones? How thick will this be??? That's at least 4 additional layers of casing and wasted plastic/material.

Failure points for non-tech savvy consumers will be a cause for returns and a lot of broken modules.

I would rather have a modular board inside, and customers pay to just upgrade/replace parts. Considering how big smartphones are getting again, there's enough room to have modular circuit boards but one external case (plastic, metal, material of your choice)

Last thing I want is to lose pieces of my phone in my pocket or restaurant because the connectors became lose.

John Lacson
18th September, 2013 @ 01:08 am PDT

I'm hoping that the lego-block guts would actually be surrounded by a durable (printable?) case of some kind to hold all the parts in, so that the phone doesn't go yard-sale in your pocket or into your soup.

Kevin Shanahan
18th September, 2013 @ 06:16 am PDT

This is a fantastic idea, and to reduce waste, you could also implement similar solution for this as for batteries, place recycling bins at selected areas where people can throw the used cubes away. In fact, i think Lego should take this idea and use it, just revolutionize the market and show Samsung, Apple and all these close minded companies that Lego is awesome! :-p

I do agree with Bruce Crosby about the connectors, but then again, everything else is breaking easily any way, so this shouldn´t be any more problem than your average phone, besides, if the plate that holds the cubes together is faulty, it can easily be replaces, instead of throwing away a whole phone because of one faulty soldering or some nonsense like that.

Though PCs are modular (in some sense), they aren´t for everyone to upgrade, plus, there isn´t any special dumping grounds for the waste parts, so it just ends up in the waste yards, they of course need to be recycled or disposed of in some better way. But, if there were a similar way to upgrade the PCs like these concept modular phones, then you would have an easier task of upgrading and even disposing of the waste modules.

@John Lacson - And as for loosing parts in your local restaurant, if it would make it any easier, there could be a encasing or even a wallet which you could put your phone into so you wouldn´t be loosing parts of it while rumbling in your pocket to answer your phone.

I think this could work for not only our phones, but our tv, pc, laptop, tablet, home entertainment system, even some parts of your car, and the list goes on and on, basically, everything you could upgrade in some way, you could solve it with modules (Lego, you´ve got to love it!).

Manes
18th September, 2013 @ 06:36 am PDT

Microsoft and Apple already have patents on modular devices that connect the components wirelessly.

kalqlate
18th September, 2013 @ 09:00 am PDT

This is the kind of smartphone or pad device I would buy. Don't own a smart phone or a pad device due to their extremely poor fixability and upgradability.

MadMaxx
18th September, 2013 @ 10:26 am PDT

I WANT!!!

I want MY phone, with the components and configuration of my choosing not to be forced into choosing the best fit from available hardware with the hours of research into what each brand and model can and can't do

Bill Mulger
18th September, 2013 @ 10:39 pm PDT

I love it. I hope to see it become fully real.

Dan Lewis
20th September, 2013 @ 10:48 am PDT
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