After the announcement of Project Ara, modular phones have gained more attention. The concept of modular phones is very simple- a modular device is a phone, tablet or another device where individual components such as the screen, camera, CPU, battery, memory can be removed by the user and replaced by others with a different specification. This means that phones could get even more personal and one can easily customise the device as per the requirements and change it on the go; revolutionising.
So far in the market there are no mobiles which can be termed as a completely modular phone, they are still in prototype/ testing stages. We have a few products which have managed to touch the concept. Devices which have managed to gain some attention so far are :-
G5 is LG’s flagship phone which was released earlier this year with a feature called “Magic Slot”. This is where the extra modules can be inserted for additional functionality. The phone is not a truly modular phone since it is a functional device without any modules (“Friends). So far it has only two available modules- the LG Cam Plus camera grip. This adds extra 1200mAh of battery capacity and hardware camera controls:- shutter key, a camcorder button, camera on/off button and a zoom dial.
The other one is called – LG Hi-Fi Plus with B&O PLAY with Bang & Olufsen DAC for enhanced audio. These two modules can be used to improve the functionality of the phone. There are no other “Friends” released so far by the company or 3rd parties.
Lenovo Moto Z and Moto Z Force
Motorola’s latest new phones which were announced a few days back has “Moto Mods”. The mods are connected to the phone via the connector at back. Lenovo has opened the gate to third parties for manufacturing the “Mods”. So far there are four mods which are available.
- JBL Soundboost- It provides stereo sound from two 27mm speakers which is at 3W each and has an inbuilt 1000mAh battery with a USB- C charging port
- Moto Insta-Share Projector – This is a pico- projector which has a resolution of 854×480 and can produce an image up to 70-inches with 50 lumens of brightness. The built-in 1100mAh battery.
- Incipio offGRID Power Pack – It adds a 2200mAh battery and 6.2mm of thickness, which might be appealing considering that the phone’s battery capacity isn’t that impressive.
PuzzlePhone can be said to be a modular phone to an extent. It’s not available for purchase yet and no details of the availability have been given out yet. The phone supposedly has three main parts- a spine (the framework and display), a brain (the CPU, GPU, RAM, memory, and cameras), and a heart (the battery and any extra functions). These can be replaced by the user if required by sliding the components.
Project Ara is by Google and has been set up in 2013. This is the most promising modular phone in which up to 6 components could be connected to base device.The screen, antennas, CPU, and battery are to be locked into the base frame and can not be changed, this decision was made clear in the last Google I/O, the reason behind this move is to allow room for more modules. The phone base would be available in three different sizes :- small – 45x118x9.7mm; medium – 68x141x9.7mm and big – 91x164x9.7mm.
So far Panasonic, TDK, Wistron, E-Ink, Toshiba, Harman, Samsung, Sony Pictures and Sennheiser have been confirmed to be manufacturing modules for Ara. The device will be running Android and is expected to available in the consumer market by 2017.
BLOCKS isn’t a phone, it’s a modular smartwatch which took around 1.6 million dollars through Kickstarter. The modules are connected to the strap of the watch and . The first modules that are available are an extra battery module, a heart rate monitoring module and a GPS module, an ‘adventure’ module which tracks altitude, temperature and pressure , a programmable button to trigger smartphone actions and a flashlight module with a white LED light. There would be more modules in the later stages which include a camera, fingerprint authentication modules. This device would be available by the end of this year.
The Future Of Modular Devices
Modular technology is indeed something groundbreaking, it’s safe to say that this is indeed the next big thing. With the more customization options being open to consumers, it would definitely be adopted widely also due to ease of repairability. This is definitely the early stages, and it would take a while for it to be a success. There are a few challenges for the modular phone manufacturers to overcome like the aesthetics, device sturdiness, module compatibleness being some of them, there is also a question about the modules being compatible with different devices but that seems highly unlikely for now. We have to wait for Google’s Ara to be released to see how the concept would be adopted by the consumers; until then we would mostly be seeing only “partially” modular phones like Moto Z.