PhoneBlocks – a customizeable modular phone you can keep

Every once in a while something so revolutionary comes around that makes you think that you think “This is Crazy.” or “That’s not Possible.” The reason being that we have been grown to believe that anything that falls out of the ordinary  that we have been taught all our lives. This effect is called Planned Obsolescence, basically, products are designed for a short life so you have to spend more on purchasing.

Investopedia explains it as follows:

A manufacturing decision by a company to make consumer products in such a way that they become out-of-date or useless within a known time period. The main goal of this type of production is to ensure that consumers will have to buy the product multiple times, rather than only once. This naturally stimulates demand for an industry’s products because consumers have to keep coming back again and again.

Products ranging from inexpensive light bulbs to high-priced goods such as cars and buildings are subject to planned obsolescence by manufacturers and producers.

Planned obsolescence does not always sit well with consumers, especially if competing companies offer similar products but with much more durability. Pushing this production too far can result in customer backlash, or a bad reputation for a brand.

However, planned obsolescence doesn’t always have such a negative connotation. Companies can engage in this activity solely as a means of controlling costs. For example, a cell phone manufacturer may decide to use parts in its phones that have a maximum lifespan of five years, instead of parts that could last 20 years. It’s unlikely most consumers will use the same cell phone five years after purchase, and so the company can lower input costs by using cheaper parts without fearing a customers backlash.

Now, imagine a product that you can build to be truly yours like a lego kit. You don’t use feature A, then don’t put it in. You use feature X, put it in. That would be awesome right? Well that concept is something that is being worked on as you are reading this article. What is it you ask?

Phone Blocks

Originally born as an idea to help the cure of waste affecting the environment. Founder Dave Hakkens came up with the idea after several things, his camera had broken and he could not find the replacement part to fix it and kept getting told to just buy a new one. How many times have you been told “It’s cheaper to just buy a new one anyway.” That and other problems facing the environment like the constant waste-stream getting into the Environment, mobile phones being the main contributor. Dave had always had an ethos of trying to make a better world and things just came together in modularity if you will. So putting his camera issue and the mobile phone waste together he came up with the idea of a Lego like modular phone concept. The idea was ’A Phone Worth Keeping’ and Phonebloks was born.

PhoneBlock Parts

There would be one block for the camera lens, one for the battery, one for storage and so on. Those blocks would plug into the base, and the blocks, base and screen would be secured together with two screws.

I wanted to have a phone where I could keep the good parts and replace the bad ones.


From their about page:

Phonebloks is a vision for a phone worth keeping. We want a modular phone that can reduce waste, is built on an open platform and made for the entire world. We are keen on finding the right partners and people to build this phone. We set up an online platform where you can share your thoughts, ideas and feedback. We believe that together we can make the best phone in the world.

The hardware design is not only adjustable to your specific wants and needs but it’s also open source so you can tinker away all you like. Small and big companies can develop and sell their blocks. If you’re by any chance not a big fan of customization then you can just buy it pre-assembled.

One YouTube user said the following: the Phoneblok (if it gets to the production phase) is going to be the Minecraft of phones.

In explaining the functionality of his creation, Hakkens gives the example of subscribing to a hardware company that will keep you current with all the latest tech in the form of bloks. These will include cameras from the big shots such as Nikon and Canon or even a small startup company. It will all be up to the user — solar powered batteries, sensitive screen for blind people, lightweight for travellers. You choose.

Project Ara

What’s cool about this is that Motorola was the first to get into the movement and as we know they were bought by Google. Motorola kicked this project off as Project Ara:

The design for Project Ara consists of what we call an endoskeleton (endo) and modules.  The endo is the structural frame that holds all the modules in place. A module can be anything, from a new application processor to a new display or keyboard, an extra battery, a pulse oximeter–or something not yet thought of!

We’ve been working on Project Ara for over a year. Recently, we met Dave Hakkens, the creator of Phonebloks. Turns out we share a common vision: to develop a phone platform that is modular, open, customizable, and made for the entire world. We’ve done deep technical work. Dave created a community. The power of open requires both.  So we will be working on Project Ara in the open, engaging with the Phonebloks community throughout our development process, as well as asking questions to our Project Ara research scouts (volunteers interested in helping us learn about how people make choices). In a few months, we will also send an invitation to developers to start creating modules for the Ara platform (to spice it up a bit, there might be prizes!). We anticipate an alpha release of the Module Developer’s Kit (MDK) sometime this winter. – Source

Project Ara

“We want to do for hardware what the Android platform has done for software – create a vibrant, third-party developer ecosystem,” the firm wrote in a blog post. “To give you the power to decide what your phone does, how it looks, where and what it’s made of, how much it costs and how long you’ll keep it.”

The project will consist of what Motorola is calling an endoskeleton, the frame that will hold all the modules in place. “A module can be anything from a new application processor to a new display or keyboard, an extra battery, a pulse oximeter – or something not yet thought of,” the firm said.


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