Phoneblok Mock-up

Phonebloks – the modular, upgradable phone of the future

Whether it actually becomes the phone of the future is up to consumers worldwide and ultimately, the manufacturers.  But is it strange that such an idea has created large public interest only now?

Phonebloks is a proof-of-concept from Dave Hakkens, a designer/inventor from the Netherlands.  The idea behind Phonebloks is that a mobile device, like a PC, ought to be upgradable and last as long as you want to keep it around.  As his YouTube concept video below explains, there is a great deal of electronic device waste.  This is due to consumers getting rid of their devices when a new upgraded device comes out, or when a device no longer functions.  In the case of the latter, even a single component in a device could cause total device failure while all the remaining components are in perfect working order.  All you really needed was a replacement for the failed component, but as it stands now, you have to get rid of the entire device.

Hakkens’ concept directly addresses these two concerns in an “it’s so obvious, why didn’t I think of that” sort of way.  Why not allow consumers the choice and ability to:

  1. Make a custom device they love
  2. Allow them to upgrade it on a component level whenever they want
  3. Keep the bulk of their device much longer than usual by way of these component upgrades
  4. Easily repair or replace broken components

Each of these points ought to reduce electronic device waste and make the consumer much happier with their device.  This has been the way of desktop PCs for about two decades (based on the author’s memory) and personally, if I can upgrade a device or computer, I’ll do that rather than trashing the whole thing and spending a lot of money to replace it all.  In the PC analogy, it’s really only a problem when the motherboard needs to be replaced, since depending on the age, model, and design of that component, it may or may not fit well with the rest of the remaining components.  However, if you want to get a better graphics processor, faster CPU, more memory, various or upgraded connectivity components, there are myriad options available.

That’s what Hakkens wants Phonebloks to be.  Here’s your interface board… slap on a display, cpu, RAM, storage, radios, whatever you like and enjoy your device.  It’s brilliant, really, and there have been more than a few people clamoring for such a technology since smartphones became a thing to be desired.  Getting back to my initial question, why has it taken until now to get mass public support and visibility for an idea like this?  It could possibly be that there is more money in it for the manufacturers if you have to replace your entire device every couple years, or in the birthing stages of the smartphone technology it was just easier to unify all the components.  In the very early years of PCs, the components weren’t exactly soldered together (like mobile devices are now) but their components (cards, chips, drives) weren’t exactly replaceable.  There was no infrastructure for it until the likes of privately owned computer shops and biggers shops (CompUSA, Egghead, eventually BestBuy) started into the component business that swapping RAM, disk space, I/O cards, and disk drives became realistic and practical.  Maybe that’s what is close to happening here, too.

A final comment on the design of the concept device… on Google+ I’ve seen a number of people poo-poo the idea as something that looks hideous and would fall apart like a Lego house once dropped.  I personally can’t imagine even an idea like this going to market with a rigid shape like this has.  Overall, I like the design but the corners, edges, all that have to be made for everyday people to use without gouging their arms and hands on the sharp edges.  As for the falling apart… well even in the video there is a clever way to “keep it together”.  But I don’t see why this couldn’t be as sturdy as devices are now.

It’s an exciting new path for mobile technology and one I hope comes sooner rather than later.

Thanks to JBirdVegas for the tip!

sources: phonebloks.com , thunderclap.it

Note: both source pages are down due to exceedingly high traffic. They should be back up by Sept. 13 or so, based on Youtube video and Hakkens’ twitter account.

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