The arrival of the smartphone changed the way we live life. Period. The way we take and share photos, stay connected, get our news, educate ourselves, remain entertained, become political and, of course, tell our beloved sports teams what they are doing wrong and why we should be made the head coach.
But despite this revolution – and that’s exactly what it was – the smartphone market seems to have suddenly collided with a titanium wall. It just seems to have hit a bit of a lull recently. Consumers the world over are wondering what the next major innovation will be and where it will come from.
The iPhone 7. The Google Pixel. The Samsung Galaxy S Whatever. They are all incomprehensibly awesome in every sense of the word – design, function, camera, and speed – but they aren’t that different from what we were offered three-four years ago. We’ve even heard some people chit chat about whether the wow factor of the smartphone has now peaked, something Nokia has gambled on with the return of its 3310. Basic, long-lasting and reliable.
What does the future look like? Well, a lot of noise is being made within the modular market.
What The Hell Is A Modular Phone?
If you reach into your pocket right now and pull out your smartphone, chances are it is going to be fully formed. It will be a mix of plastic, metal and a single sheet of glass, where the only varying options available are color and storage space, and they are only provided at the manufacturing stage. Yeah, you can get an iPhone screen replacement, but no one is doing that for any other reason than theirs smashed. Basically, the only way these fully-formed phones change from the date of purchase to the day you upgrade is when you download new software and apps.
This is where modular phones are entirely different. Modular phones celebrate and champion this idea of interchangeability. You assemble self-contained components to make a complete phone. That’s to say you piece together the camera, storage, battery and any other physical component you can think of.
Why On Earth Is This A Good Thing?
For the real nerds among us, modular phones offer us the chance to safely take our tech apart, see what they are made up of, how they work and allow us to fix them with our own bare hands (not some technical wizard in an underground bunker below some secret HQ). Of course, this option isn’t going to change the game. This isn’t the innovation the industry needs and the consumers are craving for. But the fact modular phones offer total customization could well be.
Having the chance to swap out and upgrade specific aspects of your phone not only allows personalization, but it also allows you to create a phone that suits your needs. Let’s say an upgrade camera component comes out. Instead of having to upgrade your entire phone at a great cost, you can just purchase that piece of the puzzle and slot it in. This would address one of the biggest issues facing the tech world right now; the lifespan. It would also allow you to save money on one of the most expensive purchases we all have to put up with and, let’s be honest, cost is a big factor.
Within a week of the latest state of the art tech hitting the shelves, it is pretty much made redundant by the last wave of upgrades and innovation. But with modular technology, phones will have a far-far longer shelf life. You just upgrade what you want when you want. What’s more, you would be able to swap and borrow and share too, which could prove a huge success in this sharing economy of which we live and thrive. The chance to easily tweak your phone isn’t just a good thing, it is a great thing.
What Modular Phones Are Out There?
There are more and more modular phones cropping up on the market, with notable mentions to the LG G5 and the PuzzlePhone, both of which provide a seriously interesting look at what the future could look like. However, our top two on this front is the Fairphone and the Project Ara.
What makes the Fairphone so special is its ethical approach, colliding our need for innovative phones with our need for sustainability. An ethically sourced phone; how Dutch can you get. Unfortunately, while it is modular, this isn’t its core function. Its transparency is what sells itself. The chance to see exactly how it works, and the chance for you to take it apart and repair it yourself (if you have a screwdriver). Unfortunately, that isn’t the only unfortunately either, because it is also rather pricey for what is essentially a mid-range phone.
That is where the Project Ara comes in, a phone that is being developed by Google. You don’t bet against Google. Not only is this being praised for its value (it costs $50 to manufacture), it also looks good, which is what makes it stand out from the crowd of what can only be considered to be Marmite options.
The thing that makes it so special, though, is that it is a modular phone in every sense of the word. Virtually every major component is a module, meaning it can be swapped out for another. It is a customizable eco-system. This is what excites us the most because this level of customization could well be the level of innovation the one-size-fits-all dominated market is absolutely crying out for.
Are They Ready To Dominate?
Right now, at the moment, in their current state, no. In fact, we’d say this whole concept is doomed. That is because there is nothing about the current modular phones (even the Project Ara) that would make us put down our current iPhone 7. What’s more, we’re concerned that the only way they will ever really take off is if there is a common standard across the board. Something that will allow all the bits and pieces and components to be interchangeable across all devices and, well, we can’t see that happening. Either that or if Apple starts to enter this sector, which is because Apple is the only company that could get third-parties on their side, which is utterly vital.