Smartphones are part of our regular life now, but the device we use today are not designed to adapt as of our need. We are stuck with the same device for the years until we got the new one. We just can’t just update any single peripherals of the device and customized it as according to our need. The same thing which we can do with our PCs and to some extend to our laptops. The only options you have is to go to the service center go get the new parts installed. To overcome this there is been developments going on by various companies, some are even available for purchase. Modular phones can decrease the electronic waste, cut the cost as we don’t need to buy the entire device if we want to upgrade on things and can have context specific functionality installed to out devices. Here are the list of popular modular phones concepts and products.
It was a great concept by Dutch designer Dave Hakkens in 2013. The concept was very simple. There would be main board on which user can attach third-party components (known as blocks) as according to their need. If any one block gets damaged, you can simply change that just by yourself, the way we change our RAM in our PCs. To make this concept come true, there was many barriers. Financial, technical and third party support. The concept was totally dependent on large support from third party. They could design the blocks and user could buy and use it as according to their requirements. More like an app store where third party make application and we users go and purchase the app we want. In Hakkens start collaborating with Motorola on Project Ara.
The Video below is self-explanatory about everything Phoneblocks was idealized.
Project Ara (Cancelled)
This project was originally headed by Advanced Technology and Projects of Motorola Mobility while it was a subsidiary of Google. Google kept the ATAP group to themselves while selling Motorola mobility to Lenovo. The design approach was similar to Phoneblocks but as in Phoneblock everything can be changed, Ara didn’t have those capabilities. As for initial concept Ara had all those capabilities, but the unveiled Developer Edition in 2016 I/O there were some changes. The new iteration features notable changes to the original concept; the device now consists of a base phone with core components that cannot be upgraded, including the antenna, battery, display, sensors, and system-on-chip, and extensible with modules for adding features such as a secondary display or replacement cameras and speakers. Modules could provide common smartphone features, such as cameras and speakers, but could also provide more specialized features, such as medical devices, receipt printers, laser pointers, pico projectors, night vision sensors, or game controller buttons. Each slot on the frame accepted any module of the correct size. Modules were hot swappable and device need not to shut down to change a module. The device was powered by Android and was supposed to be available for consumer in 2017 but was cancelled on September 2016.
PuzzlePhone (In Development)
A Finnish start-up Circular Devices is developing this device. Its design concept consists of three modules which can be replaced as of the user need. The three components are
- Brain – Electronics essentials – CPU, GPU, RAM, Memory and Camera
- Spine – It’s the structure of the device – Display, Speakers, Microphones
- Heart – Battery, users required secondary features
As for the OS it usage Android and Sailfish both. Due to its modular construction you can easily switch between the OSes. Third-party OEMs could too make the modules compatible with PuzzlePhone, which certainly would give users more options.
Website – http://www.puzzlephone.com
Eco-Mobius (In Development)
The Chinese hardware giant ZTE is behind this device. This device has similar concept that of PuzzlePhone. Rather than having every part as module just have few modules which can consist of device parts. Modules are fixed by magnets. It has four modules
- Core – CPU, GPU, RAM, ROM and other electronic devices
- Display – Screen and Lens
Prototype of Eco-Mobius was displayed at the CES 2014.
Fairphone 2 (On Sale)
This device is by Amsterdam start-up Fairphone. Fairphone 1 was modular but its second version is. To be precise it’s not the exactly modular, it’s just that it made in a way that anyone can reassemble the device from scratch. You need not to go to the service center to get any of its parts changed. This device is super easy for DIY users. This phone got 10/10 score for smartphone repairability by iFixit, highest score ever given to a phone. The phone consists of 7 removable parts; the main chassis, the battery, the display assembly, the rear camera module, the receiver module, the speaker module, and the back protective cover. With the exception of an updated slim case design, the first module set to be upgraded will be the camera, with a more powerful replacement scheduled to be released in 2017. Device is powered by Android 5.1.
Website – https://www.fairphone.com
LG G5 (On Sale)
It is an Android powered device launched at Mobile World Congress 2015 by LG. The lower housing which contains the battery can slide in the device and can be replaced by alternative modules to increase the functionality of the device. LG launched few modules with the device. These modules are
- LG Cam Plus – Adds grip to the rear of the device, has physical camera button, jog wheel to zoom in and out and a supplementary battery for extra backup.
- LG Hi Fi Plus – An am amplifier with collaboration with Bang & Olufsen and it adds a DAC.
Since modules are attached with the battery, user need to take out the battery to change the module. Beside modules LG launched number of accessories of this device known as ‘Friends’. These are managed by LG Friends Manger Application and its includes
- LG 360 Cam Virtual Camera
- LG Rolling Bot.
LG announced that they would work with third-party vendors to bring more modules and Friends for the device but due to low sale and bad review LG took a u turn and LG G6 is a regular smartphone without any kind of modular functionality.
Moto Z (On Sale)
It is an Android powered device unveiled on June 2016 by Motorola (at this time Motorola was owned of Lenovo). Device has 3 versions, Moto Z Play, Moto Z and Moto Z Force, all the three device has the same principle of using modularity. The rear of the Moto Z contains pogo pin connectors used to communicate with “MotoMod” (Modular part of Moto Z). Just like all other modular devices, this also use magnet to hold the module to the device. Modules are hot swappable. Lenovo has allowed the third-party development of Mods and will $1 Million to the best prototype concept as part of contest. To ensure the backward compatibility new newer version on Moto Z would have the same design and dimensions for the two hardware generations. All Moto Z devices ship with a “Style Shell”-a basic rear cover, as well as a clear, plastic “bumper” case that protects the bezel of the device. At the launch of device Lenovo launched the following Moto Mods
- JBL Speaker
- Insta Share Projector
- Extra Battery Shell
- Style Shells
Know more about Modular/Hybrid Devices.