In September of 2013 Phoneblocks popularized the idea of modular mobile phone technology. I’m sure they weren’t the first to have the idea, but their marketing campaign was my first interaction with the idea of modular technology.
The idea of swapping, and upgrading, of components such as cameras, batteries, processors and storage instead of throwing away an old, or non-working phone allows consumers to have more flexibility and reduce electronics waste, one device at a time.
Google entered the modular mobile phone market, unveiling their plans for Project Ara; a device which would have different modules that would be secured into a metal frame by magnets. Each separate module would have a unique purpose and would offer consumers greater potential for customization, allowing them to choose the modules that best suit them.
Project Ara is taking customization to the next level, the unit could potentially employ eye tracking and heart-rate sensors to monitor the user’s level of frustration. As stress increases the configurator app will whittle down the choice to ease the decision making process, said Paul Eremenko, the head of Project Ara (as quoted in the Wall Street Journal).
There’s no telling what the true market would be for this product. Rajeev Chand, who is the head of the research at Rutberg & Co., an investment firm, says “there may not be consumer market for this.” I’m no prognosticator, but this seems like it could be exactly what the consumer smartphone market needs. Many people I’ve spoken with indicate they are seeking to upgrade their phone solely because it is slow, or the screen is cracked. Allowing them to swap out individual components could save the consumer hassle and money.
Modular smartphones also allow users to customize their device based on what’s important for them. “We want it to be like an app store,” Kingham Gabriel, Deputy Director of Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects Group said “You may want a blood sugar monitor and a cigarette lighter on your phone. Why should you not have it?” I’d wager to guess this will be a hit, although I can’t yet envision a need for a cigarette lighter on a phone.