The year 2015 promises to be really exciting for new technologies that will appear on the market. Such hi-tech industries as robotics and 3D-printing has truly popped out of the shadow. Drones for quick delivery of goods are becoming extremely popular. There are many other cool things as well. This has become possible as the production costs of the next-generation devices for mass consumers are dropping rapidly. This trend leads to even newer technology niches. One of such niches is modular smartphones. But it’s not just smartphones, let’s think beyond these boundaries – the niche will cover all mobile devices and gadgets with replaceable parts.
The idea of the modular smartphones is to upgrade or replace the phone’s parts individually according to user’s needs and preferences. Such parts might include a camera, processor, internal storage, battery, screen and all kinds of sensors. This in turn will save a lot of money for consumers, because there will be no need to buy a new device should you want to keep up wtith the trend. Several years ago only a few developers could see the future for such idea. By now almost all experts agree that modular devices will soon be part of a new highly demanded market. Companies that will present first functional modular phones are surely to become true pioneers of the modular era.
Let’s take a brief look at some of these companies’ projects.
Project Ara aka Phonebloks
Initially, Phonebloks concept was created by Dutch designer Dave Hakkens and later developed by Motorola‘s Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) group owned by Google. The name Phoneblocks was picked up because the concept assumed the phone would be built from Lego-like blocks, which users could easily change.
In the second half of 2014 Google sold Motorola to Lenovo. But the Big G retained the ATAP group as well as all its patents. So now, the Phoneblocks project is called Google’s Project Ara. Why “Project Ara” you may ask? Well, find out the answer at the official website 🙂
A year ago there were just several concept pictures of Phonebloks scattered all over the Internet. Now there is a really great-looking prototype of Project Ara. The photos of a preliminary (or may be final?) design appeared a couple of months ago and created a huge buzz. Today the public is awaiting CES 2015 where the first Google’s modular phone could be unveiled and go on sale shortly after. At the beginning the cheapest version will be priced at about $50. More versions will appear later.
The Project Ara phone will be presented in three versions: mini, medium and large. It will consist of the base panel and up to 10 replaceable parts.
Puzzlephone by Circular Devices
Circular Devices is a Finnish startup company based in Espoo, the hometown of Nokia. This company may not be so famous as Google, but its smartphone Puzzlephone is already considered the main rival to Project Ara. In contrast to Google’s device, the Finnish phone will consist of only three parts: LCD module, module with main electronics and battery with secondary electronics.
The Puzzlephone will come in three sizes as well. Users can choose among a wide variety of back panels to create a more personalized look of the phone.
The Circular Devices team promises to set open source standards software to developers and hardware manufacturers. At first, Puzzlephone will run on Android OS, but the device will be open to other operating systems such as Firefox, Sailfish or Windows.
Eco-Mobius and Magic Cube
ZTE introduced the prototype of its Eco-Mobius modular smartphone at CES 2014 in Las Vegas. It was just a plastic model made up of replaceable display, camera, battery and “core” modules. However, back then it was the very first comprehensive and materialized prototype of a modular device. Since then no other info has been gathered about further development of Eco-Mobius.
Xiaomi‘s Magic Cube is even more intangible concept. Its design appeared a year ago on the Chinese social network Weibo. But since then it has faded away.
We expect the other manufacturers to join in the modular phone craze soon. More companies are welcome on the market, because software developers will be able to use an open source code for these devices, and hardware manufacturers could define the standards for all future modules.