Modular smartphones have arrived. In recent times, there has been much buzz around devices that come in a “building block” design, with interchangeable modules that contain various hardware components. Here is a low-down on this fad that has become the talk of the smartphone world lately.
What is it?
“Over the years, a mobile phone has become smarter, sleeker and faster. But, they come with built-in specifications, and are static. However, with the invention of modular smartphone, the static attribute of a smartphone has changed,” says Ameen Khwaja, CEO and founder, latestone.com.
The principle of such “customised” devices is simple: basic structures are designed to hold screen modules, batteries, cameras, sensors, 3G, Wi-fi or other components. These are snapped into place with the help of magnets. They can be switched quickly and easily to boost performance or replace faulty parts.
Why the sudden buzz?
With the slowdown in technical advancement of smartphones in the past two years, coupled with “leaks” about upcoming models, there’s been a sudden rise in the audience’s expectations. “The modular design is a refreshingly new concept in the smartphone market. It allows users to enhance the capability of their smartphone according to their needs,” says Amit Gujral, marketing head – mobiles, LG India.
These smartphones cater to the specific needs of an individual. They are different from a regular phone, as different components can be added and removed based on a user’s requirement. Also, if a mobile phone breaks or an updated model is released, instead of buying a new handset, a user could simply swap out components.
Is it a marketing gimmick?
Experts disagree. They say that modular smartphones are set to become the next big revolution in the smartphone space. “More and more companies are betting big on this concept. You will soon see many brands launching their modular smartphones,” says Gujral.
Khwaja agrees, adding, “The customisation ability of modular phones can make the smartphone market greener by reducing year-on-year e-waste generation. The flexibility associated with modular phones promises a more personal device.”
In the future…
Modular smartphones are here to stay. The concept has been doing the rounds since the past couple of years. However, a big challenge for anyone looking to make it a reality is that such phones have to have a good balance of aesthetic design, user convenience and modularity.
“When we look at the current modular phones, they are still relatively primitive. The models slated to release in the coming year seem to use only the concept of adding one extra module to the existing features of the phone. But, in the future, these phones will look as good, or even better, than the current generation of smartphones, and will become completely customisable,” says Khwaja.
Tracking its progress:
1. Dutch company Fairphone had presented its partially modular ethical smartphone in 2015, guaranteeing the traceability of all of its components.
2. There has been much talk of modular smartphones this spring, after LG released its G5 handset and Google presented a near-final version of its Project Ara.
3. The current wave of modular smartphones draws on a concept created by Dutch designer Dave Hakkens, whose Phonebloks mobile is based on a set of small modules (processor, hard disk, camera, etc.) that can be easily changed and updated.
4. Another smartphone based on the same idea hails from Finland, called PuzzlePhone. However, the focus on that device doesn’t come close to the media attention that Google’s concept has received, which should go on sale before the end of 2016.