A phone is no longer just a phone. Smartphones are capable of carrying all kinds of applications, whether that’s snapping high-quality photos, playing games, making music, or any number of other uses. Through the use of downloadable apps, everyone can customize their handset’s home screens according to whatever they want to use the device for. No two phones have to be alike.
Wouldn’t it be great if this ethos extended to hardware as well?
Welcome to the world of modular phones: Smartphones made up of easily replaceable modules that can be hot-swapped in or out depending on what you want to do with it. Need a better speaker system? Snap one on. Fancy an improved camera? Extra battery pack? A built-in gamepad, portable projector, or receipt printer for your business? Just buy the component and add it to your handset like it was a smartphone built by Lego.
“[The idea of modular phones is that it’s] a phone that you can upgrade and repair,” Dave Hakkens, creator of open-source modular phone project Phonebloks, told Digital Trends. “If something gets broken, whether that’s your screen or your battery, you can just swap the part so it works again. Or if you want to upgrade it — let’s say a new camera component or a better Bluetooth sensor comes out — you can replace that part. You don’t have to throw away your entire phone; you only upgrade the parts that are actually upgraded.”
On paper (or whatever type of screen you’re reading this on), modularity sounds a great idea. The same kind of customization enjoyed by people who build their own PCs could, if introduced to the phone world, make the indispensable devices we carry around every day even more indispensable.
At least, that was the theory. Unfortunately, despite promising efforts from big names that include LG, Motorola, and the mighty Google, modular phones just haven’t taken off as hoped. So what went wrong?