When Phonebloks was first announced as a concept last September, I must admit I was somewhat cynical. Sure, it was a nice idea, but anyone can render some pretty pictures and call it a product – but would it actually work? Aren’t there laws of physics stopping “modular” computing like this?
The idea was simple: rather than junk your phone every few years and replace it with a new one, your phone would be modular, meaning that you could swap out individual components to upgrade. For example, want a better camera? Then simply unclip the current one, and clip in a better one. Bigger screen? Take the current screen off and put a bigger one on. The concept images suggested something akin to a Lego baseplate with different phone components strapped to it.
My cynical brain cried: “But aren’t phones engineered in a very specific way? Don’t certain components have to be wired up very specifically? Aren’t the design of these things completely packed down to create the most efficient possible configuration of components? Wouldn’t a more open system mean phones would have to be massive? (Like how a laptop can’t be upgraded, but can be packed into a smaller space than a desktop PC with removable components)”.
It turns out that Google, of all people, are attempting to prove my cynicism wrong. They’ve teamed up with Phonebloks and are currently working on a prototype, as the below video shows.
What’s particularly intriguing is the use of electropermanent magnets to hold components in place – which seems to solve the problem of needing components to be removable, but not wanting to complicate things with screws.
Equally interesting is Google are not just thinking about the hardware challenges, but the software ones too – they’re already working on a user interface to help users find out about components and how to configure their phones.
It still looks like the finished product is a long way away though call me crazy… but I’m starting to believe that it just might happen.