Phonebloks - Modular Cell Phones

Posted: September 19, 2013

Dave Hakkens has the perfect cell phone for you. Or rather, he has a Santa Claus sack of bloks you can use to build the perfect cell phone for you. It's called Phoneblok. It's genius. For as many reasons as bloks comprising it.

First, Phoneblok's modular nature--a compilation of detachable and swappable parts--lends itself to entirely personal customization based on what the individual values in his or her phone. Into snapping photos ? Do your selfies justice and choose a fancy camera blok. Save all of your info to the Cloud? Downgrade your storage blok in favor of a larger battery blok and longer charges. Then reverse the move a few months later when the Cloud Fs you in the A, and you decide additional drive memory is necessary after all. In essence, use Phoneblok to make your smartphone even smarter by molding it to your needs, and then remolding it down the line when those needs change, without having to buy a whole new apparatus.

Second and third, Phoneblok's replaceable components aspire to significantly reduce cell phone expenditures and environmental waste. Hakkens points out that most electronics are not designed to last over the long term. In addition, the world of smartphone technology is in constant flux, with newer, faster, better ideas materializing almost as soon as the last advancements hit the market. Combined, these conditions encourage people to discard their phones at a rate neither economical nor eco-friendly.

With a Phoneblok, if a single part breaks, it will no longer be necessary to replace the entire phone. Or even pay for expensive repairs, as once the problem is identified, a user need only pop out the affected blok and pop in a new one. Similarly, when cellular advancements hit, existing Phonebloks are game for piecemeal upgrades that will render them just as current and spiffy as the whole-package new releases.

Phoneblok detachable bloks connect to a base that locks all parts together, and a pair of screws secures them into a solid phone. If produced (yes, if), users will have the option to buy a pre-assembled phone, or just purchase the parts they want for DIY assembly. Hakkens further envisions a Blokstore--think app store for hardware--for the acquisition of additional bloks, plus the sale of old ones.

As for the if, Phoneblok does have a road ahead of it. The length of that road is dependent entirely upon investor interest. And not just individual investors--the Phoneblok platform is too big for crowdfunding, and production funds are only one of Hakkens' concerns. The project needs partners and collaborators, companies who are willing to back him with time and knowledge, not just money.

If you're not one of those companies, but still want to pledge your support, give Hakkens a Thunderclap to help spread the word and add momentum to the Phoneblok movement.

Phonebloks Updates

October 2013 Update: It seems that Motorola* has expressed interest in the Phonebloks concepts, and met with Hakkens to discuss the parties' "common vision." I'm not sure how collaborative the effort will be...in terms of profit sharing...but Motorola's Project Ara, an effort to develop a free, open hardware platform for modular smartphone creation, is currently in the works under a battle cry of transparency and goodwill towards fellow man.

Motorola says it wants to "do for hardware what the Android platform has done for software: create a vibrant third-party developer ecosystem, lower the barriers to entry, increase the pace of innovation, and substantially compress development timelines." Their Phoneblok-esque device will consist of an endoskeleton and modules, and in the coming months Project Ara's cellular baby will be seeking input from the Phonebloks community, as well as volunteers to test drive the technology. See photos and read more about it here.

*February 2014 Update: Obviously Motorola was bought (and then sold) by Google. But Google did retain Motorola's Advanced Technology and Products (ATAP) group, and is continuing with ATAP's Project Ara. Google plans to develop their as-yet-unnamed Phonebloks modules with magnets so that DIY mobile phones and replacement parts simply snap together and pull apart tool-free.

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