Modular Phones Are Here, Want to See Some?

March 20, 2016 by Christoph Siegmund

Modular phones are bringing hardware options to mobile phones, take a look some that were recently unveiled.

Modular phones are bringing hardware options to mobile phones, take a look some that were recently unveiled.

Remember that first barebones kit you assembled? That PC you were able to rejuvenate with a RAM upgrade? Or rebirth with a power supply? All joyous moments, especially the initial performance. However, replacing a laptop screen tended to be the bane of my existence. Now, even that tedious task is soon to become a simple plug-and-play experience on a micro level. Modular phone concepts, prototypes, and test markets have been boiling behind the scenes for roughly a half decade. And we are not just talking about the battery...that was done a long time ago and became a forgotten concept. Anyway, here are what can be seen as some of the innovators of this exciting technology.


The catalyst for this movement began as an academic, final project but really proved to just be the beginning of several project collaborations. Originally, all intended purposes for the idea stemmed from an organic, environmentally friendly and conscious standpoint; reduce, reuse, recycle. In regards to handsets, this translated into upgrade, replace, and reuse. Phonebloks, the resulting company, started networking and fundraising in full force during 2013. Before this humble organization knew it, they were joining forces with several tech giants. They have an ongoing list here with all current contributors. Now, like any open source, customizable technology, there will be few different perspectives on how it should be done. Below are all collaborators to Phonebloks and their own vision.   


Fairphone 2

Now, remember, the startup cost for any of these phones will be similar to purchasing any other mainstream phone outright. However, the idea thereafter, is of course that you can continue building upon that phone for upgrades and/or replacements. The Fairphone 2 can be looked at as a local hero to Phonebloks out of Holland as it resembles the original student idea, cosmetically and practically. A translucent casing holds the separate blocks that can overlap and build upon each other. Other than screen size, this little guy can compete with the big contract favorites and theoretically outlast them indefinitely. Build, Replace, Reuse at low cost.    



Now, we all know how serious Sweden is about safety for their vehicles. Well, comparatively, neighbors in Finland could argue the same passion about their tri-body tank called the Puzzlephone. Like a puzzle, there’s only one exact way for all of the pieces to fit consisting of the Brain(CPU, RAM, GPU, Cameras) the Spine (High Res. Screen and Skeleton), and the Heart (Battery and Secondary Electronics). This little gem leans further away from continuous upgrades and heads toward a 10-year life plan (minus the battery with 3 years)

With the simplest of replacement plans. 1, 2, or 3?

Project Ara

Okay, now, the question with any market of portable electronics: who is doing it all? From what can be seen in their ongoing research and development- Google appears to have the edge...or edges perhaps (you will see in the prototype videos). Not only have they figured out the durability (“The Butt Test”) and customization but they have done it with user-friendliness and accessibility in mind. Starting with the “Endoskeleton” you will see several slot interfaces in which the user can (within correct size and placement) mix and match flash-style chipsets along the backside of the handset leaving a completely unique stack of blocks (which can all be customized with screen-printing). The front consists of two main blocks as the speaker and yes, the screen. However, the real edge that Google has its own networking ability with other major brands (check out one of Toshiba’s insert camera blocks) and its internal software gurus constantly at work. Although, Google has produced several hardware devices in the last few years, a handset of this caliber and sustainability will be a true feat. It is currently in the testing market of Puerto Rico and is projected for release in late 2016 for the rest of us. The only real catch here under such a wide umbrella of possibility is that a user could spend much more on building their perfect phone than a typical contract phone with the same specs. However, you don’t have the opportunity to build upon those handsets either. To infinity...    


Specifications are not completely necessary because it can all be manipulated. Ultimately, these projects all culminate into a blend of unique customization, profound durability, and indefinite longevity. There are benefits to anyone. The real mission is getting just as many companies to jump on the hardware wagon as they do the software in the app markets. Then you will have several bases of support that pertain to any individual need such as a telephoto lens or heart-rate monitor. My only problem is the cracked screen on my phone currently. It is just a depressing reminder of what I would have to do in order to fix it. However, with any of these other phones, this would be an at-home repair done in seconds. This is certainly achievable if Google’s tech-truck idea booms during the test market phase.