A Phone Worth Keeping?


This is Phonebloks. The phone of the future? It could be, because I think the idea is perfect. Everybody can design his or her own ideal phone. You don’t care about NFC, a good camera or good speakers? Then use that space for a huge battery or memory! You dropped your phone and the screen broke (familiar for many iPhone users right?), just buy a new screen block and replace it yourself. It is just like Lego, pick your pieces, put them together and enjoy your own creation.

While this sounds like a great idea, there are also many less enthusiastic reactions, like the phone will never become as flat as recent smartphones and four pins are simply not enough to connect the different parts.

Though this project seems to me like an amazing idea, but I have my doubts about how much these blocks would cost and if it can overcome its technological difficulties.

What are your thoughts about this innovative Dutch (yeah it is Dutch) project? Is this actually the phone worth keeping?

1. http://www.engadget.com/2013/09/11/phonebloks/

2. http://www.phonebloks.com/

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12 responses to “A Phone Worth Keeping?”

  1. 335358jl says :

    It looks like an awesome idea, because people can use their mobile phones for a longer period. It will be more sustainable when people will be changing only the parts that are damaged instead of buying a new one. However, you can also customize the phone in a lot of ways. This opportunity could stimulate people to buy extra blocks to customize their phone. All those extra blocks will not only cost money but it will also generates more electronic waste on our planet. Also the phone do not offering a bigger screen if you want to. So, there are as well as disadvantages to buy this phone. Only time will tell if this is going to be a success.

    • 320339wo says :

      I don’t agree with your comment on the electronic waste. When one component is broken, you only throw away that block in stead of (now) the whole phone (so less waste). And when you want to improve a block, you can sell the old block to another consumer who wants/needs to replace that block.

  2. wardvanbalen says :

    This idea has a lot of potential, but on the other hand is the industry willing to support such a device? They would ruin their own profit by only selling the parts needed, where they now sell complete phones.

    Furthermore it seems a bit to easy to think all these different combinations would work without any problem. Is there enough software support for this much customization?

    Of course i like the underlying idea about electronic waste. It’s true, we throw away complete devices because of small broken parts. This seems like the perfect solution if all the stakeholders team up. Personally i don’t see this happening, because companies want to stand out on more aspects then only component performance.

    It’s a great idea, sadly i don’t see it getting enough support withing the current market.

    • jeffreyvanrijswijk says :

      Hi Warda, I would like to make a comment to your post. You state that the market may or may not be ready for this change in the way we see mobile phones. I think the market is definitely ready for a change like this. All around you, you can see customization of products demanded by the customers. They do not want a standardized product that they cannot adapt to their personal needs. They want a product that can be altered in a way that it exactly meet their needs.

      Another trend in the market is that customers want to have higher quality products (for lower prices). Next to that, they do not want them in a while, they want them now. You may look at Apple for example. Great hordes of men are willing to trade in their Iphone 4S or 5 for the latest 5S. This is a trend that both businesses as consumers can benefit from when the Phonebloks is introduced.

      What I think is a great advantage for business that are willing to enter in this disruptive technology is that they can increase the amount of money spend by each customer. When I look at myself, I am somewhat resisting in buying a new telephone, although my phone is already getting slower. I cannot download as many apps as I want due to my low intern storage capacity, my battery is becoming less and less able to power my phone for a day without charging and my camera is not that good anymore. Although I face these problems, I do not buy a new phone, but wait until my contract stops in six months because I find it too expensive to buy a new phone. When I had had the option to upgrade my current mobile phone with the substitution of some blocks, I would just bought the blocks that I need. In that case the company selling me the blocks would have profited from me.

      Baseline: businesses should adapt this new model. Adapt it now and your business ensures a competitive advantage, wait too long and you risk ending up like Kodak and Nikon. The new model is based on selling blocks instead of selling an entire phone. Customer demands can be more satisfied when the technology becomes faster available for a lower price because you only have to by the piece you want.

      Nevertheless I think it is extremely import to make sure the system of blocks is able to work properly after changes in the composition of the blocks is made. Besides that I think it is only a matter of time before the Phoneblocks looks a slick as every other model in the market today.

  3. wardvanbalen says :

    in addition to my preview comment, in the video comments someone pointed out the idea sadly isn’t that new.

    2007: http://www.textually.org/textually/archives/2007/12/018177.htm
    2010: http://www.ubergizmo.com/2010/09/concept-modula-modular-phone/
    Varia: http://www.designbuzz.com/modular-mobile-phones-meet-multiple/
    Microsoft patent: http://htcsource.com/2011/09/modular-phones-could-be-in-htcs-future-thanks-to-new-microsoft-patent/

    I think the problems i mentioned above might be the cause of this idea not succeeding the past 6 years. I don’t think this concept differs enough from these similar ideas to succeed.

  4. 343504d says :

    I love the idea, and actually wanted to post about it myself. I believe it has great potential of actually happening.

    Firstly, they have already received more support than the 100,000 they had as a goal.[1] Secondly, since it is an open-source project, any company can use the information and make sure that the parts that they create are compatible with any other part for the phone.[2]

    I foresee that companies will start competing on who makes the best bloks, which will drive down the price and forces companies to make better quality products. If this is really the future, than there will be a lot more choice for the consumer and more freedom to choose what you really want.

    [1] http://www.phonebloks.com/

    [2] http://phandroid.com/2013/09/11/phonebloks-phone/

  5. 325202ws says :

    I think the concept is great, and definitely innovative. To be able to replace and customise components with such ease could potentially make it the ultimate phone for the tech savvy, mod geeks and gadget freaks.

    Not convinced by the whole electronic waste story though. Will one mobile phone having the blok technology actually have a significant impact the lowering of electronic waste? No, but it could be a small step towards that goal. Do most people even care about electronic waste? Only if it hurts them in their wallets.
    So if phone bloks can save the consumer money, by not having high repair costs or having to buy an entire new device people will embrace that technology, but not for environmental reasons.

    Last remark:

    The design seems a bit flawed. Today’s cellphones are quite compact and sleek because of the very tight integration of the hardware. Blok phone seems heavy and bulky by comparison. Instead of a light enclosure for all of the components, each block has its own enclosure which adds to the bulk.

  6. janvanwerkhoven says :

    I agree with the above statements that the concept itself is very intriguing; I would love to ‘build’ a phone to my exact requirements like a do with a desktop PC. However at the moment the cons outweigh the pros:

    – One of the biggest problems of such a phone will be the compatibility of the different pieces. An endless array of configurations will be possible, and not all will run stable. This will degrade the user experience. This problem can also be seen in the PC gaming industry, where a game doesn’t run well on all configurations, and to a certain extent this effect can be seen in android. These compatibility issues can be remedied by a robust operating system. Unfortunately, the current leading platforms do not support such hardware swaps. Current Android Phone manufacturers at the moment have a hard time updating their phones to the newest versions of Android, often with months of delay. The operating systems for these kinds of phones will have to be changed and upgraded to contain all the necessary drivers to correctly interface with all the different kinds of building blocks.

    – Lastly, as 325202ws mentions, the design seems clunky at the moment. One of the most important aspects of a phone for most people is the design. At the moment the design isn’t really attractive. I also think that a new design is one of the coolest things of buying a new phone, really contributing to the ‘newness’ of a phone. With an upgradeable phone, the aesthetics of the phone won’t change after an upgrade unless you upgrade all the components in which case you could also buy a completely new phone.

    Nevertheless, I am very interested in the further development of this idea and would like to see if the aforementioned problems can be solved and how.

  7. bartmol1989 says :

    I saw this video too and I think it is a very original idea. There are some issues that I think will prevent this idea from succeeding. The first problem has to do with the hardware. When the parts are heavily standarized, they tend to be bigger and bulkier than non-standarized parts. If you look at the inside of a smartphone, you will see that the parts are placed with a lot of precision and are woven into each other. The second issue has to do with the connections. I’m not a engineer, but the chips in a smartphone have more than ten, somethimes a hundred, connections. In this idea they will have only four. The last issue I can think of is the resistance of the established phone companies like Samsung, HTC and Apple. Are they willing to participate, knowing that people will upgrade their phone instead of buying a new one?

  8. joneltimbergen says :

    Tonight at the major Dutch talkshow: DWDD!

  9. 320966rb says :

    I’m a bit late to the party, but here are my two cents.

    The concept of a Lego phone is definitely fun, but I think it is doomed to fail. As mentioned before, you have the unwillingness of the big corporations to cooperate as well as the flawed design.

    But I actually believe the idea itself is also flawed. The ideology behind the phone is that it will reduce environmental waste. The trend with the current phones is to make the design sleeker and, thus, use less plastic. With Phonebloks, however, all the separate blocks that will be sold will be packaged in plastic packages, which by default will increase the use of plastic. Even for something futile as a headphone jack, you need to buy a separate part (in plastic!) that supports this, thus increasing the use of plastic. Secondly, when you will at some point want a new phone (consumers tend to have that need), it is a lot easier to sell off your old normal phone instead of a Phoneblok consisting of old parts. The argument of Phonebloks about ‘normal phones’ causing a lot of waste is simply not true; the majority of consumers sell their phones after two years, gives it to family members or simply keep it, instead of throwing it away

    Technologically speaking, as mentioned in the DBA class, a system is made out of multiple layers that are made in such a way that synergy occurs. This also applies to phones (e.g. RAM and CPU are always close to each other). Phonebloks separate all the components and this will simply hinder performance immensely, making it unable to compete to other phones.

    There is a reason it has not been done before, and I honestly dont see it happen anytime soon

  10. michavink says :

    From what Ive heard and read about the subject, the project is just not viable.
    To interface all the different components, or blocks, it requires the same printing plates. Every component needs to be compatible with the other component (they need to have the same printing plates and interfaces). Ofcourse, a standard printing plate / interface could be choosen and used throughout its time, however this will result in a phone that is not on par with todays standards. For example, if you buy the latest HTC One (which I highly recommend) all the components are choosen so that they integrate well with each other, and all the components are high end. That means a highend camera capable of providing great photos. But also the latest processor.
    If you would use a phonebloks phone, you would probably start out with all the highend components. However those components are designed with certain architecture and printing plates. Future components would use different architecture and printing plates, so you can not use the newer components in phoneblok phone because they would not match with the older ones.

    http://www.androidpolice.com/2013/09/10/the-phonebloks-upgradeable-modular-smartphone-concept-is-as-awesome-as-it-is-unlikely/

    http://www.fastcodesign.com/3017409/why-lego-design-principles-dont-work-on-smartphones

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