Phonebloks, Customizable Modular Smartphones Made To Last

September 19, 2013 | 22:09
Phonebloks, Customizable Modular Smartphones Made To Last
Phonebloks, Customizable Modular Smartphones Made To Last
Designer Dave Hakkens is harnessing the voice of the crowd to promote Phonebloks, an open modular platform that lets you assemble your own phone.

Since the rise of the smartphone many people have acquired the habit of buying a new phone about every two years, either because the phone has died or because they want one of the new features that have since hit the market. The result is a fast growing mountain of electronic waste.

Hakkens hopes to make the transition to a more sustainable model by introducing the concept of Phonebloks. A phone made of different modules which can be replaced individually. When a component gives out you only have to replace the part instead of throwing away the entire phone. Phonebloks enable users to customize their phones: optimize them for Internet usage or spend money on best camera performance. When better camera's hit the market the standard users can upgrade the part.

Hakkens envisions an open platform very much like the PC-model with a wide range of companies supplying interoperable components. To convince incumbent phone manufacturers that it's time for a change, Hakkens asks people to join the cause on the crowdspeaking site thunderclap. The site amplifies a message by having many people promote it at the same time via Twitter and Facebook. On October 29, the Thunderclap will resound through the digital 'verse. So far Phonebloks has 705,602 supporters.

Over at George Hahn offers a good breakdown of the feasibility of Phonebloks. He doesn't see it happening in the near future.

“It's a physics issue. Signals in modern devices are extremely high speed; the easiest and cheapest way to combat this is to bring components closer together. For example, the wireless radios, RAM, and processor in all modern phones exist as one chip. They essentially put the CPU and wireless magic on the same silicon die (or on a separate die in the same package) and pop a RAM chip on top ("Package on Package").

Besides the physical limitations there is the human problem of lack of standardization in the smartphone industry.

However, Hahn does like the idea of a modular phone. Replacing electrical signals with light could offer a solution. On chip optical interconnects already exist, when the technology is more mature Phonebloks would become physically possible. Until then, Hahn proposes to make phones more repairable to combat electronic waste.

And the human problem? That's what Dave Hakkens is working on right now.
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