Check out this customisable, upgradable smartphone concept

A new startup has been making the rounds on social media in the past week, which promises to reinvent the mobile phone. Phonebloks is an idea which revolves around a device which will last your whole life. It's an elegant solution to the masses of electronic waste produced around the world from devices which are not made to last. While this will be a huge technical feat if they can pull it off, it may also lead the big tech companies to rethink the way devices are designed.

The phone is based around modules (bloks) attached to a central board. Bloks come in multiple sizes, and can be arranged in many ways, so if, for example, you want a really long battery life, but don't have the need for a camera, you can purchase a bigger battery blok to take up the space a camera blok would of, or just choose a smaller, cheaper camera module. Even the screen can be replaced. Everyone's phone will be different depending on their priorities. When the next generation of processors are produced, users can simply switch out their old one, for a new one. This saves the cost of buying an all new smartphone every year, which may come with features you don't need or want.

Another huge advantage comes when your device breaks. If a screen cracks, you can replace it yourself without paying hefty repair fees, which once again reduces waste considerably.

Different brands can build their own modules; for example, Canon could build cameras, Bose speakers, and Nike accelerometers for fitness. If this platform was to lift off, everyone could be completely unique in the phone they own, and instead of seeing the same old iPhones and Galaxys everywhere, devices can have a little bit of personality.

There will of course be some serious technical limitations to the idea, as building a phone isn't as simple as just connecting lots of neat components. Different bloks may also not be compatible with each other, as a high-end camera needs a powerful processor too. Nevertheless, this is still an idea, and a fascinating and innovative one at that. We should all be very excited over its potential. 

Source: Phonebloks

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Unfortunately never gonna happen because companies like Apple (worst offender), Samsung, LG, Sony , MSNokia etc etc love the so called planned obsolescence. And those are the very companies that would be making the blocks. So no.

Consider this. After all these years, phones by now could have at least managed to get upgradeable RAM. But why should a phone maker make this? Instead of letting you buy a RAM module they just have to sell you a brand new phone.

"Different brands can build their own modules; for example, Canon could build cameras, Bose speakers, and Nike accelerometers for fitness."

sounds just like components in my desktop pc architecture. guess what. it doesn't last a lifetime.

interesting concept/great in theory, but im guessing in reality it will be hard to pull off.

as others have said, its great to see someone think outside the box but its probably a bit too ahead of time, maybe in 2113 it will be common.

I like how everyone championing this is completely ignoring the fact that more than just components change. You're going to get to where the baseboard needs to be upgraded to support the increased capabilities of newer component pieces, or where whole new types of hardware need to have a home in the mapping as what we use smartphones for evolves.

This design is limited to iterative improvements of existing paradigms and wouldn't support disruptive technologies.

Joshie said,
I like how everyone championing this is completely ignoring the fact that more than just components change. You're going to get to where the baseboard needs to be upgraded to support the increased capabilities of newer component pieces, or where whole new types of hardware need to have a home in the mapping as what we use smartphones for evolves.

This design is limited to iterative improvements of existing paradigms and wouldn't support disruptive technologies.

True, but at that point, replacing the base (Assuming all of the "bloks" were still supported by the updated base) would be more economical than replacing a whole device...

I'm not sure how feasible this all really is, it's a very unique concept... But it's quite interesting.

M_Lyons10 said,

True, but at that point, replacing the base (Assuming all of the "bloks" were still supported by the updated base) would be more economical than replacing a whole device...

I'm not sure how feasible this all really is, it's a very unique concept... But it's quite interesting.


And disruptive technologies are rarely coming from companies with an interest in carrying the weight of old standards. It's cheaper to develop a complete device than to, as a single company, contribute to a standard by planning a new path it could take.

You would also have competing new baseboard standards designed for competing new technologies and generations of tech would go by before things would settle down again, and by then, who's to say we'd still even have smartphones?

Technology moves too fast for this.

That reminds me of my first laptop around 93 I think that had this modular system. The problem is the connectors are bulky and no one wants to limit their designs to one form factor.

the concept is great, but I dont know how its realization would actually prevent waste. the PC model is not that different. the motherboard is fixed and the rest of the components you can mostly freely change. the problem is the interfaces with the hardware itself, that will impact the speed. as components become better, the data buses need to be fast enough. so those also improve.

so in the end you would have different generation of "base boards" , but only the newer ones would be compatible with the latest and fastest hardware. but I guess if they follow a path like USB and Sata, it could work (if they keep backwards compatibility).

so in the end, people would be updating everything and still generating waste. although, admittedly, the waste would now be those blocks

warwagon said,
I LOVE the idea. It beats Apple and their fracking glued in batteries!

Why are glued in batteries an issue?

I'd rather a glued in battery that lasts than a replaceable one that needs replacing every few hours.

Not going to happen, ever; companies need to sell their new phone model every 6 months with the very full XD HARD CORE FULL HD 600 OLED, upgraded AX200 processor, brand new battery that lasts 30 minutes more than the previous one, the brand new 289647 MEGA - HUGE - PIXEL camera and other useless stuff. This is going to be just like the electric car - end users like the idea - General Motors kills it.

lol, the Android market cant even keep up with firmware upgrades for the phones they currently have now, let alone a million other combinations.

Many of the elements shown independently are so incredibly cheap and small it would be nonsensical to separate them out.

The logic of say having a camera block attach to the top of a phone might make some sense but not every element of the phone. In reality some elements are already independently adjustable - e.g. batteries and SD storage Cards.

I think to suggest this as a serious concept you first need to identify and group logical elements whilst also evaluating element costs. For example a £500 phone... if 90% of the phone is only 20% of the handset cost, then perhaps only the other 10% is the bit which needs to be interchangeable?

This is such a neat concept. There are a lot of holes and limitations now, but I love that people are thinking differently. Will be cool to see what they come up with!

Charisma said,
This is such a neat concept. There are a lot of holes and limitations now, but I love that people are thinking differently. Will be cool to see what they come up with!

It's the complete opposite of the way technology is headed.

Internal components are becoming more integrated, not less.

In an ideal world, virtually none of these subcomponents should be on different *dies*, let alone different chips or different boards. All this does is result in gross parasitics, bus overhead killing battery life and speed, a connector system that's impossible, etc.

Clearly they do not know any electrical engineers.

it should be easier to upgrade your smartphones since they are more like computers.
the only problems is that phone hardware development goes way faster and any upgrade would be obsolete in a year or so anyway.

I designed one of these about 4 years ago in school! A lot of design programs do a cell modular cell phone project similar to this

wv@gt said,
I designed one of these about 4 years ago in school! A lot of design programs do a cell modular cell phone project similar to this

Most computers are obsolete in 6 months unless you plan way ahead (luckily my systems tend to last 3 years and continue to resell)

Replace camera, wireless and accelerometer with GTX Titan, and it's looking to be a good idea.

P.S. Beat you to it, Illusive Man.

Just thinking of how nonsensical that design is makes my head hurt. Many of those components (2g/3g radio, bluetooth, wifi, gps, etc.) are becoming essential parts of recent SoC designs, moving back to separated components is complete retardedness. Having separated versions would cost several more times than the built-in ones since they would require all the proper casing, interface, etc.

francescob said,
Just thinking of how nonsensical that design is makes my head hurt. Many of those components (2g/3g radio, bluetooth, wifi, gps, etc.) are becoming essential parts of recent SoC designs, moving back to separated components is complete retardedness. Having separated versions would cost several more times than the built-in ones since they would require all the proper casing, interface, etc.

It wouldn't likely be very difficult to create component parts that handled more than one function. Like an SoC for a module that provided many of the core functions. The video was a concept idea. Sometimes concepts don't leave the drawing board. Other times they divert dramatically.

So instead of getting rid of an entire phone once a year, I can get rid of individual blocks every few months, I'm not seeing a decrease in waste.

McKay said,
So instead of getting rid of an entire phone once a year, I can get rid of individual blocks every few months, I'm not seeing a decrease in waste.

Not really, if you are happy with most of your components then just upgrade the ones you need. Take the iphone 5 and 5s, same camera, different flash, but the main component is still the same, even the screen is the same size. So, just upgrade the parts you need, but you keep most of the same phone with you.

This would be such a neat device to work with, but I doubt ANY large company would be willing to create it, simple because they are in the business of selling devices, and as many as they can, rather than building ONE device that people would keep for many many years.

Also keep in mind if something breaks (like your screen) then you are in for a new phone which wastes the rest of your existing phone. If you just were able to easily replace the screen though then you create less waste then.

Damn that thing is as thick as the Lumia 920! Surely this is the 920's concept.

Cool idea however. I love seeing companies think outside the box.

and very likely just as expensive, and producing possibly even more waste due to all the additional casing/interfaces/electronics required for the separated components.

For that to be possible you need a REALLY good bus system and every single manufacturer to agree to use that bus. If that happens, that will be the end of the computer desktop, for it it's exactly its replacement (just mobile).

Haha, I almost lost it when he said "You can just upgrade the block that upgrades the speed".

The guy's heart is in the right place, I'll give him that, but he doesn't have much clue about how electronics work. The idea that you could run all this off what is essentially a breadboard is a bit far out to say the least .

Add into that driver issues, and the inevitable confusion from people that put the wrong parts in (how would a smartphone work without storage?), and it'd be a tech support nightmare.

I like the idea, a lot actually. But I really can't see it being feasible. Hopefully I'll be proved wrong though

I don't get why you think it's funny. The idea really isn't that far fetched, especially when you realize it's almost the exact same concept that custom built computers currently use. People with custom computers can mix and match all different types of hardware from hundreds of manufacturers. And guess what? A lot of it just snaps into a slot similar to how this video portrays.

lolneowin said,
I don't get why you think it's funny.

Because it's hilarious, especially to electrical engineers like myself.

I think the best part of the video is where they have the "Entrepreneurs, Designers, CEOs, Developers, Investors and Researchers" cartoon figures on the screen, there's no engineer. They probably couldn't find one that wouldn't stop laughing at them.

The idea really isn't that far fetched,

Oh dear god. Yes it is.

Cell phones are highly integrated devices, and they're only becoming more so. This is not in any way, shape, or form electrically feasible.

The bus overhead, the size (and electrical parasitic) overhead and fragility of the connectors, the fact that many of these components, like the radio chipsets and processor, are actually already integrated into a single SoC, and the trend is only going to continue that way (I would be surprised if we don't have MEMs devices integrated into the same BGA package as the SoC in a few years) are just some of the problems I see at a glance.

This is the exact opposite of the natural progression of thing kind of portable technology. Integration gives you low cost, high speed, better battery life, and smaller size. This takes all of the performance metrics of a cell phone and ignores them.

Enron said,
All these blocks... this phone must suffer from a lot of fragmentation!

And if I bought a red polycarbonite Nokia piece, and a aluminium apple one, it would have restrictions written all over it, if it detects another brand's hardware.

Majesticmerc said,
Haha, I almost lost it when he said "You can just upgrade the block that upgrades the speed".

"Can you download more RAMS?" - heard by everyone in the late 90s withcomplete noob relatives