What do you think about a modular smartphone?

Users can replace the parts as they fail or get outdated but they all plug into a common platform. It seems that there is a lot of design potential that can happen with this! (Their server has been overwhelemd lately but keep checking)

Though I hate to be that guy, I think these kind of ideas are a bit naive.

Most people don’t buy a new phone because the old is broken, or one part of it is outdated. They buy something new because the phone is getting old by today’s standards (the whole phone outdates, not just separate parts of it) or they just want something new (not the same old, same old with more storage, better camera…). Other than that, having every unit connect to the mainboard through a common interface and not just soldered onto it will make every unit more expensive and the phone bulky (the macbook air would probably not be so thin if it relied on standardised interfaces for battery, memory and ssd).

So even though I think the idea is kind of intriguing, I don’t think it will fly (but I wouldn’t mind being wrong on this).

This concept is in virtually every designer’s sketchbook who’s been working in the mobile industry. The interesting part is that we’re getting close to the tipping point for size, battery capacity, SDR, etc. that will allow this to be a reality. The tough problem to overcome is the software interaction of all those “bloks”. Not trivial…needs to be tightly managed.

The power of a well done cute video to illustrate and sell a really bad idea. Complete with a social media ploy at the end. Woo hoo kids, let’s put on a show! Be empowered!

Storage taking up size? My 64 GB memory card is the size of half a fingernail, and that is in packaging, and it will get smaller. And yes it is already modular.

Vertu initially sold the concept of replaceable cores in expensive cases. I wonder if they still do.

It is a hobby breadboard,and breadboards are never pretty. Modular cubes in electronic kits date back decades, the packaging and the grid demands always overwhelm the content of the module, always going to be too big. The mechanics of keeping pins in contact, the concept of pins.

I cannot think of a single consumer item, outside of a PC that allows for a modular upgrade to maintain currency. What percentage of consumers upgrade a processor? What percentage of processor companies keep using the same socket?

What social caché can pulling out your new modular block on the back of your five year old phone? Fits perfect for down at you local electronic hobbyists club. That seems like a small market.

Well said, Shaw. My sentiments exactly.

Pointless marketing of an overly used concept. Wasn’t there a kid a few years ago doing the exact same thing for his senior project on the boards here?

I know they mean well but it just sounds to me like it could end up like micro-transactions in gaming where IF it was embraced and unlimited customisation are available then what is to stop you constantly upgrading? Sure I might want a hello kitty labelled speaker this week but next week it might be Ironman. It’s not like human behaviour is going to change and all of a sudden and people won’t feel the need to consume when you have just made a device that makes it easy to.

It also really annoys me from the video where it says “electronic devices are not designed to last”. I find there is this type of paranoid mentality around like there is some secret committee meeting where representatives from all the phone companies gather in an old converted mine shaft and come to realise that if they can just make their devices last half as long as the old ones then they can sell twice as many. They then have a secret ballot to decide what that exact time frame will be and recline in their Egg chairs.

I echo all of the sentiments here and I too, wouldn’t mind being proven wrong about this concept. The video mentions electronic waste. The problem of electronic waste isn’t only in that the waste exists, it’s in the handling of the waste and how certain parts of the world create toxic conditions in an attempt to extract minerals from the PCBs and other parts. The product doesn’t necessarily address the issue of eWaste and it certainly doesn’t reduce it, it just modularizes it.

This concept is nonsense. Even if you appreciate the theory of the concept the reality of building such a device simply won’t work. That’s not how circuit boards work, the ability to interconnect things is far more complex then they make out (controlled impedance, whats that?). It denies the basic existence of how chipsets are designed to work together. And don’t get me started on how antennas work - most of your phone exists to house the antennas. WLAN, WAN, GPS, Bluetooth, Diversity WAN, NFC, all of those things are designed to work in harmony - you can’t expect to pop one out and pop a new one in and have it work with your lego phone.

The reality is we upgrade our phones not because any given part is obsolete, but because we like the culture of getting new things. Even if you got this to work (Which would be at least 10x larger and more expensive than a regular cell phone) This doesn’t reduce any waste, it just means you’ll throw your phone out a few pieces at a time.

I do love their notion that “cell phone manufacturers are trying to keep you down” and they just need a political uprising to change that…


I agree with all the points made here. I admit to having an idea like this in my sketchbooks somewhere too. The technical features needed to make this real is tricky or impossible.

One thing I am amazed with is the amount of hype one guy has been able to make with this. He has around 7 million view this week. He set up a simple website to talk about his idea, albeit a misinformed idea. It highlights how a designer with a better presentation can also get noticed.

Not necessarily a good thing though…I always feel like stuff like this can hurt the general impression of designers, especially those of us who fight for street credibility with engineers.

This reminds me of the greener gadgets - gravity lamp from a few years back. It was a wonderful concept that made you think “wow why hasn’t this been done already, this is so wonderful” and had the same viral impact, denying the fact that it was about 1 click removed from the perpetual motion machine.

This reminds me of the greener gadgets - gravity lamp from a few years back. It was a wonderful concept that made you think “wow why hasn’t this been done already, this is so wonderful” and had the same viral impact, denying the fact that it was about 1 click removed from the perpetual motion machine.

Except that is wasn’t one click away from perpetual motion at all. I requires “winding” up the weight, just like gravity powered clocks had to be wound for the last two centuries (e.g. cuckoo clocks, long case “grandfather” clocks) and, arguably, much simpler than a clock movement.

A real product with a real market, if you ask me. And nearing production. It probably wouldn’t be bad thing to have in your emergency home kit or “bug out” bag either. The only design flaw I see is with the drive belt … twine or cord might have been a better choice simply from a replacement point of view.


Perhaps my sarcasm was a little too heavy on that one, but I think you’ve illustrated the point I was trying to make very well about concepts vs execution.

It is not impossible to make a modular telephone, just like it is not impossible to make a light powered by gravity.

The Phonebloks video tells the world of a device that’s every bit as good was what is currently in your pocket, just as powerful, reliable, well designed, and makes it seem easily obtainable, that is - if the world of evil corporations would adopt such a novel approach.

Just like the Gravia lamp told the story of 4 hours of bright light in a beautiful design that any architect would be proud to have in their study.

Once the reality of that engineering hurdle sets in it becomes obvious that cost, physics, and design constraints are much more realistic and challenging to over come than planned. A 20lb bag of sand to power a single LED for 30 minutes is certainly nice for the third world, but falls far short from the design promises made, even with planned LED efficiency getting better and better.

Designing a modular phone wouldn’t be any different, it would certainly be possible, but the end result would be far larger, slower, and more expensive due to the massive amount of interconnections not present on any standard device that it would never make market sense, even if most of the phone was reusable for 5 or 10 years.

At the end of the day, most of us buy new phones because we like them. Because our old ones are scratched up and don’t let us get the newest Twitter app. The smartphone platform is much more than just a phone, which is why plenty of people still use flip phones and are completely happy. The consumer culture is a bigger problem than modularizing E-waste is ever going to be, so while I appreciate the compelling story, no one would actually like the product they pulled out on the other side.

The phone is the modular block that fits into your extended computing system.

Equally attractive for the first two seconds of consideration, then reality seeps in.


January 2011 CNet:

An Israeli company with an innovative modular approach to smartphones is closing its doors. Modu could never get its unique modular phone system to take off, and has laid off most of its staff in preparation for shutting down for good next month. Unfortunately, employees are reporting that layoffs were made without earned compensation being distributed.

The Modu system had a tiny phone core that snapped into modules designed for different purposes. The company has shown modules that turn the little core unit into a handset with a full QWERTY keyboard, and another handset that is VoIP only. The innovation of the modular system was not sufficient to get sales ramped up to a feasible level.

I am a fan of modular systems using phones, but the Modu failing was in concentrating on a tiny core unit that wasn’t powerful. This unit only plugs into different handset modules, which in effect simply turns it into different types of phones. Perhaps if they concentrated on creating modules that served different purposes they would have been more successful.

Not literally! Figuratively. Your computing system is cloud connected, there is no reason for a physical connection between your computer, tablet, phone, smart watch, thermostat, clothes dryer, oven, door lock… Virtual connections man.

Yet again…been explored, being explored…yada yada. Did some work on a similar idea for a client several years back.

We all know the idea isn’t the tough part, it is the execution.

This isn’t exploration. This is how things currently exist and will continue to organically grow across brands and across platforms. Also did a lot of work on this at frog. It will be brand agnostic and will continue to grow out of how users are life hacking their own solutions. Those solutions are easy to observe in software and then to eventually institutionalize. It tends to happen at a pace we don’t notice. I see it in my world by the continued demands on connectivity.

Vaporware. It’s kinda like asking why we don’t repair our TVs when they break. Manufacturing is so efficient that repair can’t compete on price. Stores are already squeezed on floor space. A store isn’t giving 4’ to the phone blok when they could give it to 8 different cel phones that reach 8 different types of clients.

And all this modularity ensures compatibility over 10 years time, right? Right.