Several months ago a friend of mine showed me the YouTube video below that outlined the idea for a modular smartphone. The purpose of the video, according to it’s creator Dave Hakkens, was to show the world that there was a need and desire for a smartphone that could be customized by it’s owner, using removable parts. He called it “a phone worth keeping”, the idea being that if this phone were an actual product, the consumer could swap out parts whenever needed. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been asked how much it would cost to replace the broken screen of a smartphone, or how difficult it would be for someone to do it themselves once I tell them the approximate cost. The trouble is that the parts aren’t cheap, and while it’s not neurosurgery doing the replacement on your own can be risky to say the least.
Dave Hakkens idea, called Phonebloks, would theoretically solve this issue by making all of the parts of your smartphone modular so that you can replace them if they get damaged, or even upgrade them for a newer part when new parts become available. The idea went viral, and there were millions of views just days after it was posted. Little did Dave or anyone else know that Google was a few steps ahead.
When the Phonebloks video was posted online, Google was already several months into development of a modular phone they call Project Ara. The idea behind this device is virtually identical to what Hakkens proposed, but thanks to Google’s deep pockets, including their ownership of Motorola, the idea was already becoming a reality. They’ve been hard at work building prototypes and testing different design ideas, but the central idea remains the same: every part is separate and can be snapped onto a central board. The beauty of this design, in theory, is just how customizable and repairable the phone would be. Battery died in the middle of the day? Forget reaching for a charger or an external battery pack to charge it, just swap it out for a spare you keep with you. Not happy with the quality of the pics your phone takes? No worries, just buy a new camera and snap it into place. Last but not least is my personal favorite: broken screen? Not a problem. Buy a replacement, snap it on, and you’re good to go. Only time will tell whether or not this becomes something that is mainstream, but personally I really like the idea.