What is more important to you in a mobile phone, looks or upgradability? If you picked the latter, then you’ll probably get excited about a new phone concept called Phonebloks. It’s a modular smartphone made up of separate, interchangeable blocks that are easily upgraded or replaced if they break. You can design your phone with the components you care about or need, leave off those you don’t, and you only have to upgrade bits one at a time. An awesome idea, right? Yeah, but you’re going to need to put up with one ugly phone to get it.
Look-aside, the basics behind Phonebloks are solid. The whole venture is very Maker-inspired and will appeal to Do-It-Yourselfers and hardcore phone geeks. Consumers will be able to buy pre-made phones or assemble their own, blok by blok, using components found in the Blokstore. Here, both large and small hardware makers will get the chance to sell you components ranging from processors and internal storage to cameras and speakers. It’s akin to an app store, not just because of consumer choice but because anyone will be able to make hardware bloks. The entire platform is open source.
A Phonebloks phone is based around a single pegboard. To add components, you have to fit them, puzzle-like, on the back. The display goes on the front and is also modular and easily replaceable. Once all your components are on, lock them in place with two screws. Some have pointed out that this kind of construction is likely to mean a phone that will easily fall apart if dropped. This may or may not be true, but if you put a case on it, you’re probably fine.
Cases may end up being the real key component. Like it or not, phones are fashion statements and status symbols. But under that case, does it really matter the exact model of phone you’re carrying? Generally, no. Gather some licensing deals and a handful of great designers together, commission some great-looking cases, and most people won’t care if the Phonebloks itself doesn’t look that great.
In fact, this is the perfect type of phone for people in low-income communities or places with a small but growing economy. The idea that smartphones should only last a year or two before you replace them because they’re obsolete or break is pretty ridiculous, if you stop and think about it. Most of the time, the obsolete or broken bits could be replaced and the phone itself would still work just fine. But good luck upgrading the CPU, adding more RAM, or getting a bigger battery. With Phonebloks, you can do exactly that.
Right now, Phonebloks is still in the concept stage. So concept-y that the inventor isn’t even asking for money yet, just attention. He’s gathering people for a crowdspeaking campaign (like a small version of Kony 2012) that will send out a huge burst of social media noise about the phone all at once to prove there is great interest. The thunderclap is scheduled to happen on October 29. The website and YouTube video aren’t too clear on the next steps. Will they try a Kickstarter campaign? Raise venture capitalist money? Bring the idea to an existing manufacturer? Maybe all of the above.
No matter how it comes about, we wouldn’t mind trying to build our own phone. Would you?