Google's modular phone

…and? What do you think?

On a side note, the article’s mention of the Handspring Springboard got me off track for thirty minutes reading about Palm PDA history. The golden days …

I want to see the mini-sidewalk sale when someone drops it.

I commend them for dedicating the resources, and if nothing else I see value in some of the challenges they’ll solve along the way which may lead to innovations in other areas.

With that said, their own admission that they’re a long way from integrating the 6+ antennas most phones have, the giant battery packs or many other issues makes this more of a high end Arduino-like solution rather than a smart phone.

I can see a point where a hybrid approach of adding an expansion module or two to something like the traditional smart phone or Google Glass will be a benefit. Someone with a $50 smartphone base may want to add a high res camera or a 3D scanner or some other future tech that doesn’t make sense for a unique device but makes sense for an add on.

Nokia recently upgraded my phone’s camera via a software update. It seems far easier to upgrade via software nowadays and occasionally just replace the whole phone. This still seems like an idea that would be great in '85

I feel that way with iOS. Moving from 5 to 6 and especially to 7, I feel like I’ve gotten a new phone each time. The hardware doesn’t need to change as often anymore.

I think this is very interesting, actually something new in a rapidly stagnating market. It’s difficult to say where smartphone market will go, currently it seems to be cheap throwaway but that seems to be inherently limited.

Could module development be open like application development? This could develop a self sustaining market, hundreds or thousands of different block module application developers. A “secure” block, making your smartphone into a stealth device, this might have significant appeal in todays hysteria. Medical application blocks, this would have great appeal. Automotive blocks, (un)lock, start, locate, routine diagnostics (oil change). Vanity, people like to customize, a huge opportunity to develop limitless permutations of vanity blocks’ colours, textures and materials.

A large potential list, but a fundamentally different market than existing.

I don’t think it’s as different as you think.

Smart phones are a modular platform already. You just add on to the existing phone (which is an optimized form factor containing all of the “essentials”). You can take an iPhone and stick on a bar code scanner, credit card reader, customize the appearance, customize the ruggedization. Heck, even military applications exist for turning the iPhone into a high end piece of communications equipment for the Army. You have bluetooth accessories like Fit bit, Pebble, etc that extend the functionality without any physical tethering.

Most of other applications you mention are really all able to be driven purely by software. For example remote start and diagnostics can all be done already - check out Torque or Viper Smart Start. My BMW includes it’s own app and many other manufacturers do as well. Mercedes has gone as far as developing a Pebble app.

The beauty of bluetooth and software extensions is the amount of modifications to the phone is zero, and for everything else there’s a USB port on the bottom for a good reason.

not as modular, but interesting:

Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 12.08.37 PM.png

I’ll chime in that my predictions 2 years ago remained correct - they went away from the “Everything modular” approach to a “smart phone with a bunch of USB connectors for accessories”.

It’s more logical than trying to interconnect the deeply complex inner workings, but makes it easier to enable things like a modular camera, sensors, or batteries like they’ve chosen to do.

It’s still an interesting project, but people have already created smartphone platforms in less “modular” ways (see iPhone credit card readers, barcode scanners, snap on DSLR lenses, etc) so now it’s really more about the packaging than the technology.

These concepts show the limitations of physical product design in a hurting way.

What Ray and Cyberdemon said stays true today. Is it expression of googles sheer financial power, that this was not cancled yet? I mean, interesting idea. I like it, but I doubt there is a mass market for it. Isn’t ruggedness one of the sales factors in phones for the last years? How do you get those connections water tight and lasting? IF you want a better camera, why not build the necessary optical lense in, right now. The idea of adding “features” and adding to the bottom line even more has come to an end with cars, already. You sure can’t replicate that marketing model with phones, today. Or can you?


Actually with premium brand European cars, this option-adding business model works great.
New base model BMW 320i costs 35 000 €. However the average 320i actually bought (with “couple” options added) usually costs more between 50 000- 60 000 €.

This modular phone thing looks cool but probably doesn`t work in real market where consumers replace their phones every year.
It would be a good idea in a post-apocalyptic society though where resources are scarce and people are environmentally savy. :confused:

Pretty telling that the entire video doesn’t show a single screen other than the small e-ink display on the back of a few of the phones. Everyone in that video sets their phone screen-down and only interacts with the back of the phone. Granted they’re trying to highlight all the fancy modules, but I’d bet money their latest proto doesn’t have a working touch display anymore. Remember 10 years ago when every design student in the world (myself included) had a modular smartphone concept in their portfolio? And all of their professors told them was it a pipe dream that couldn’t work? And we all thought they were just being naive about technology? Turns out they were right. Even the Googles of the world can’t get it to work.

I love the idea of added on speakers or microphones for music recording and playing. I’m a musician and would love to be able to record better sound and listen and play back (jam, if you will) without plugging in to a secondary listening device. I have a big jambox, but it’s not always ready and charged when I need it. I’ve tried apple tv airplay, but this has huge lag, and a 3.5mm to rca jack to my stereo keeps me chained to a room. It would be great to take an acoustic guitar out to the forest and record some multi track guitar parts.

It would also be cool to be able to go to a friend’s concert and record a few songs for them on your phone that didn’t sound like a rat in a tin can so they can put them on youtube.

I can see other huge benefits with this design from input DI devices to plug in a guitar or midi synth (like I can with the camera connection kit on my ipad, but better) to wide angle or macro lenses for photographers, even little selfie screens on the back so you can see what you are taking.

The general problem with small speakers is they only have so much response, regardless of how many you have.

Phones have already done a decent job of this by building 2 big speakers in and working to create as much back volume as they can in a tiny space.

For things like recording a concert - they already have accessories like this: which you can tell would never properly fit into a tiny rectangular footprint of a module anyways.

Being able to scale out the bottom of the device means you can create almost any size peripheral and still have it work. That’s challenging when you’re left with a ~60 x 60 x 5mm block.

When I was at Nike there was a small group that was obsessed with making a modular shoe… then we realized the shoe itself was a modular part of the person’s attire for the day.

I see phones in much the same way. All of the tech is updating so fast, the benefits of modularity seem to be outweighed by the need to replace the entire unit. I think the focus should be in the opposite way. If the tech only lasts 18 months, why not focus more on recyclability?

And yes, an full accessory mic or speaker is going to blow away any dedicated module. And for manufactures it makes so much more sense. Why make a dedicated mic module or speaker module that works with one phone when you can make a BT speaker, mic, camera whatever, that works with every phone? The only phone that has the numbers to make a dedicated module make sense for a 3rd party is the iPhone and maybe a couple of the Samsungs. The numbers likely barely pencil out for a phone case for the rest of them.

The concept reeks of solutions in search of problems. Also, you’ll need unique housings for all the components, and it’s kind of a beast aesthetically. I sort of feel like smartphones and computers maxed out their utility several years ago - the problems had largely been solved, at least well enough that any additional gains in performance and functionality since 2010 or so have been marginal. They’re all pretty fast, they all do a lot, and they fit in my pocket. Done. They’re pure commodity at this point, just like cars and almost every other manufactured object. Value creation has its limits.