The concept of modular design divides a system into smaller parts that can be produced separately and put together in several different systems. How would you like that idea applied to smartphones?
Wouldn’t you like to pick out the components you need for your phone yourself, instead of settling for the manufacturer-selected options?
Companies are in the concept design phase of these models now. LG’s new G5 model was unveiled in late February. In the LGG5, you can replace the battery at the bottom of the phone. And you can insert that battery into a different module that contains other features.
The LG G5 plans to start out with two modules. The first is known as LG Cam Plus. According to USA Today, this module allows a user to operate the phone like a real camera and features power, record, shutter and zoom buttons.
LG is also launching LG Hi-Fi Plus, working with audiovisual product manufacturer Bang & Olufsen for high-resolution, high-fidelity audio. It’s a significant upgrade from MP3-grade sound and comes with a headphone jack and speaker. The Hi-Fi Plus module can also be connected to a smartphone or PC if you prefer.
You could just snap in and out these added modules. In a modular design, you just pay for the components you choose, and replace them where necessary, instead of when the next model is released.
Google is also involved in modular smartphones with a plan known as Project Ara, from their Advanced Technology and Projects department. The project’s website says it starts with a structural frame known as the endo or endoskeleton. A user can snap in and replace modules at any time of their choosing, and the phone’s cover can be changed at any time. A user can purchase a complete Ara phone and buy additional modules for it, or configure their own phone.
Motorola, owned by Google, is working on the phone’s development. Motorola expects to open an online store in the future where customers can order their own new or used components.
The PuzzlePhone was designed in Finland and manufactured in Europe. The company used crowdfunding website Indiegogo to raise over $116,000 in a month for their project last year. PuzzlePhone has three modules that can be interchanged: the Brain for electronics, the Spine would be the high-resolution display, and the Heart is the battery.
Designers describe the PuzzlePhone as sustainable, upgradeable and repairable. First shipments are expected to go out in September, with prices ranging from $299 to $699.
Fairphone 2 is said to be the first modular phone on the market. It has been designed to allow users to fix their own phones. Fairphone explains on their website that extra parts became available on their webshop, and iFxit helped them put together a repair-it-yourself manual for users.
Fairphone is a touchscreen based, dual SIM model. It contains an expansion port for your choice of components. The company is looking to minimize e-waste and extend the lifespan of a smartphone. The average consumer price of a Fairphone 2 is $525.
Advantages to modular design in a smartphone should be the price, and repairs to separate components figure to be easier. People who like the light and sleek styling of today’s smartphones, your custom made model might be a tad clunky. And overall performance can be a question.
The Google/Motorola Ara project has been postponed from 2015 until 2016. But mobile devices have been adapting for years, and we see no reason to believe custom module phones can’t be in our future.