We tend to see electronics as singular products, but they are much more than that. These gadgets we use daily are composed of little pieces that work together to turn ones, zeroes, metals and plastics into magic. What if we could stop seeing them as single units and manipulating them to be what we want them to be?
This is the dream that Phonebloks first brought to the mobile industry. The company promised a modular smartphone. This device would have detachable components that you could remove and exchange at your will. Need a better processor? Just exchange it. Don’t care for a camera? Add more battery instead!
This idea was nuts in its time. Most experts and journalists believed the industry simply wasn’t ready for such a crazy move. Google and Phonebloks proved them wrong with Project Ara, which they are working together on.
Isn’t Project Ara Motorola’s? Google Sold Motorola!
Project Ara was started by Motorola, which was later acquired by Google. Long story short: Google sold Motorola to Lenovo. Where does this leave Project Ara? The Search Giant kept the patents and everything else it deemed valuable enough.
The Advanced Technology and Projects group, which does include Project Ara’s team, still belongs to Google. Staff has been transferred to the Android team, which makes the most sense for a company focused on mobile technology.
The future of modular devices
Project Ara is set to come to the market on January, 2015. That is much sooner than any of us anticipated, but it’s not the only time Google has been under-estimated in their ambitious endeavors. Let’s say we all get our modular phones come January. What then?
Phonebloks started a movement with the modular phone, and now they want to expand their passion to other markets. This all started with a single video (you can watch it above), and the independent organization has now released another video. The goal is to invite other companies in the industry to join this modular revolution.
Imagine if we could take this idea past smartphones? Modular laptop computers, cameras, TVs and appliances are just a few examples.
Phonebloks is looking for more partners and participants. They have also taken the opportunity to announce a new partnership with Sennheiser. This company has many years of experience in the audio industry, making it a very valuable asset.
How will this make devices better?
One of the biggest ideas here is that these are devices “worth keeping”. This means there is no need to get rid of them at all, all you need to do is replace the parts you want to upgrade.
Those who need better performance can just get new processor and/or RAM memory modules, for example. It will be just as easy to get the hottest new smartphone camera out there. If one component breaks, you don’t need to throw away the whole device. Just replace the affected module (even if it’s the screen!).
In the long run, those who want to stay on top of the latest technology can do so without changing phones every few months. There is another factor that makes this idea so enticing, though – You can really make the phone yours.
I am a photography enthusiast and don’t really care for smartphone cameras at all. If I want a good picture I will use my DSLR. My smartphone photos tend to be casual (and dare I say, mediocre), so I won’t spend much in a camera module. Instead, I will focus on other parts of my phone I really care about.
Will modular electronics change the industry as we know it?
In some ways, Phonebloks and its supporters have already changed the way we see technology. The mere idea of Project Ara makes techies sweat with excitement. I do believe at some point this concept will catch on and be very popular.
Why? For the same reason many of us still love desktop computers. Even if they are bulky and ugly, customization makes them unbeatable. Now, do remember there is also a market for tablets, laptops and smartphones.
These devices are hard to repair and don’t follow this modular mentality, one bit. I believe there is a place in the future for both types of devices. Many won’t want to deal with the worry of modules, when they buy a new device.
The general consumer usually just wants electronics to work and to take care business. Keeping up with the latest processors and modules is not really something most people worry about on a daily basis. Such users will want to walk into a store and walk out with a working piece of equipment.
Modular devices will be for the gamers. For the techies and customization lovers. For those who can’t live more than a few months with a device, without wanting a new one already. The rest will want to benefit from the simplicity and sleeker designs of the non-modular electronics.