Phonebloks is the modular phone you custom build with blocks

By on September 11, 2013, 1:30 PM

Smartphones are amazing devices on so many levels but their effective lifecycle leaves much to be desired. What I mean is, they are great when first launched but after six months or a year when newer models are available, many are ready to trade up to the latest and greatest. For what, a slightly faster processor or more memory?

What about all of the other components in your dated smartphone that are still perfectly fine and current? Unfortunately you’ll be buying back most of those parts in the new phone while the outgoing handset gets traded in or perhaps even tossed in the recycling bin. But does it really have to play out like that?

Designer Dave Hakkens from the Netherlands doesn’t believe so which is why he has come up with a phone concept called Phonebloks. Described as a phone worth keeping, his device uses a series of modular components that plug into a base, or a motherboard of sorts. Every component of the phone is a block that can be added, moved or removed completely.

Don’t need Bluetooth or perhaps you store everything in the cloud? Remove the storage block and add a larger battery block instead. Love to take photos with your phone? Add a larger camera block for improved image quality. Or if you just want to keep it simple, do away with the camera, Bluetooth, etc. and opt for a larger processor and battery block.

The phone is built on an open platform but to get the project off the ground, Hakkens needs to get the right people and the right companies involved. That’s why he is using Thunderclap, a crowd-sourced platform that relies on users’ social media reach instead of donated dollars to help spread the word about a given project. If the project’s goal is reached, Thunderclap will blast out a timed message from all supports at once in an effort to create a wave of attention.

So what do you think? Would you invest in a modular phone platform that you could customize on a hardware level or is this a bit too gimmicky for you?




User Comments: 39

Got something to say? Post a comment
2 people like this | JC713 JC713 said:

This is so cool!!!!

1 person liked this | Guest said:

The amount of combinations of the kind "I want this but it doesnt fit with the rest of what I want!!" makes me think this is utterly impractical

2 people like this | Blkfx1 Blkfx1 said:

I really hope this project gets some backing.

1 person liked this | Vrmithrax Vrmithrax, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Excellent interpretation of a concept I've been thinking about for years (more on a laptop and tablet scale, but still)...

I have to wonder how some of the issues I pondered would be handled, though. Like, the inter-module bandwidth would be far slower (I'd imagine) than being directly connected like many sub-modules are in current designs. Also wondering about proper heat dissipation, with every component essentially walled off from the rest of the electronics (which can be good and bad). And, of course, just physical spacing... Phones today use every micrometer of available space to fit all of their hardware in, yet this type of design would have (relatively) massive amounts of space used up by plastic walls, air gaps, etc. Not to mention how much more room will be needed if you have all components split up - like separating wi-fi, bluetooth, and radio when many current phones use highly efficient chips that have them all in one package... Show me you can overcome those (and other technical issues) and I'm all in!!!

1 person liked this | VitalyT VitalyT said:

Looks like a phone designed for Minecraft fans.

1 person liked this | Vrmithrax Vrmithrax, TechSpot Paladin, said:

The amount of combinations of the kind "I want this but it doesnt fit with the rest of what I want!!" makes me think this is utterly impractical

Ah, but every consumer makes the same choices and compromises when they buy a cell phone today. It's rare that any one model has every piece of their ideal that they want, so they compromise and choose the version that has what they NEED and as much of the wants as possible...

Yet, with a system like this, you could conceivably have extra blocks, and switch the functionality of your phone depending on what you need at the moment. That same amount of combinations that you think make it impractical could actually make it incredibly practical.

wastedkill said:

This looks awesome would as they said reduce the amount of electronic waste from phones by a ton!

Blkfx1 Blkfx1 said:

What would they do with the unused blocks though? For instance, I upgrade my camera block. What would happen with my old camera block? Can I trade it in? Sell it ? or just toss it adding to electronic waste. Which, in the end would sorta end up counter productive for their cause. Still, I like the concept nonetheless.

Guest said:

So, everytime you put new hardware ( a new block) you will need to provide drivers to the phone to be able to use it?

What about when a new version of the mainboard appears?

Sounds just like PC hardware to me, with all the good and bad it implies

ikesmasher said:

I WANT THIS. Just dont dumb it down to an ***** level and remove certain functionalities that us nerds like (none come to mind ATM)

OliTheG OliTheG said:

Let me tell you something Mr Video.

You won't get a handset maker onboard with this (particularly Apple.)

They WANT you to throw away your old phone. They actively encourage you to upgrade your ENTIRE phone (BECAUSE MORE MONEYZ IN THE BANK) rather than individual pieces.

You want more battery? Well, Mr Samsung/Apple won't let you, because they are saving that for the next phone, in order to force you onto new phones in the future.

This is why Apple blocks new versions of iOS from moving onto older items. Nothing would stop my iTouch 2G from running iOS6 (and by extension the skin for it, iOS7.) Practically everything that is new to the UI since iOS2 has just been a rip from jailbreakers, so why not make newer versions avaliable?

Oh yes, they want you to buy their newest product, and piss away money.

What this is an attempt to do, is stop hipsters from buying a new phone every year..

Fat chance.

Tekkaraiden Tekkaraiden said:

I like it, it makes the lego fan in me happy.

1 person liked this | ikesmasher said:

Let me tell you something Mr Video.

You won't get a handset maker onboard with this (particularly Apple.)

They WANT you to throw away your old phone. They actively encourage you to upgrade your ENTIRE phone (BECAUSE MORE MONEYZ IN THE BANK) rather than individual pieces.

You want more battery? Well, Mr Samsung/Apple won't let you, because they are saving that for the next phone, in order to force you onto new phones in the future.

This is why Apple blocks new versions of iOS from moving onto older items. Nothing would stop my iTouch 2G from running iOS6 (and by extension the skin for it, iOS7.) Practically everything that is new to the UI since iOS2 has just been a rip from jailbreakers, so why not make newer versions avaliable?

Oh yes, they want you to buy their newest product, and piss away money.

What this is an attempt to do, is stop hipsters from buying a new phone every year..

Fat chance.

They dont expect to get apple or samsung or someone like that on this. That would be idiocracy. Smaller handset maker or something.

JC713 JC713 said:

Excellent interpretation of a concept I've been thinking about for years (more on a laptop and tablet scale, but still)...

I have to wonder how some of the issues I pondered would be handled, though. Like, the inter-module bandwidth would be far slower (I'd imagine) than being directly connected like many sub-modules are in current designs. Also wondering about proper heat dissipation, with every component essentially walled off from the rest of the electronics (which can be good and bad). And, of course, just physical spacing... Phones today use every micrometer of available space to fit all of their hardware in, yet this type of design would have (relatively) massive amounts of space used up by plastic walls, air gaps, etc. Not to mention how much more room will be needed if you have all components split up - like separating wi-fi, bluetooth, and radio when many current phones use highly efficient chips that have them all in one package... Show me you can overcome those (and other technical issues) and I'm all in!!!

Yeah how would the heat dissipation work.

2 people like this | Vrmithrax Vrmithrax, TechSpot Paladin, said:

What would they do with the unused blocks though? For instance, I upgrade my camera block. What would happen with my old camera block? Can I trade it in? Sell it ? or just toss it adding to electronic waste. Which, in the end would sorta end up counter productive for their cause. Still, I like the concept nonetheless.

I'd like to think a whole ecosystem might pop up around these blocks... Consider the popularity of the Raspberry Pi and Arduino platforms... Modularize the controllers, make them compatible, and you can use that camera block on a little robot project or other idea you had. Or donate them to schools for their projects. You could end up with a big and very interesting modular wave of DIY fun!

hahahanoobs hahahanoobs said:

This is worse than Shuttleworth's idea.

2 people like this | dennis777 dennis777 said:

SHUT-UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!!!!!

psycros psycros said:

As long as there's a portrait QWERTY/d-button module and a single standard for compatibility, I'm in.

JC713 JC713 said:

Will it run Android?

GunsAblazin said:

Excellent interpretation of a concept I've been thinking about for years (more on a laptop and tablet scale, but still)...

I have to wonder how some of the issues I pondered would be handled, though. Like, the inter-module bandwidth would be far slower (I'd imagine) than being directly connected like many sub-modules are in current designs. Also wondering about proper heat dissipation, with every component essentially walled off from the rest of the electronics (which can be good and bad). And, of course, just physical spacing... Phones today use every micrometer of available space to fit all of their hardware in, yet this type of design would have (relatively) massive amounts of space used up by plastic walls, air gaps, etc. Not to mention how much more room will be needed if you have all components split up - like separating wi-fi, bluetooth, and radio when many current phones use highly efficient chips that have them all in one package... Show me you can overcome those (and other technical issues) and I'm all in!!!

I'm guessing the wi-fi, bluetooth, and radio can be one block/chip. Everything else are completely valid concerns.

I don't think chip manufacturers will go for it though, because they'll be selling based on consumer demand and not a massive order by a company. This can be good for them if customers want newer technology like 802.11ac instead of 802.11n, since many companies don't always upgrade.

1 person liked this | Guest said:

Electronics engineer's point of view:

- instead of a single chip solution you have a multi-chip one... instead of a single board you have more boards => extremely expensive.

- signals through PCBs have more signal integrity issues that sending them inside the silicon. Resulting in a slower system.

The electronic waste is a null point. Throwing away a single block produces mildly less waste than throwing away a phone.

This is the kind of results when a designer goes into something he has no clue about, like electronics.

Arris Arris said:

Given that all current solutions provided by Qualcomm and the likes are all System on a Chip(SoC) I think they'd struggle to get any company willing to portion up the system into separate silicon. I'd think the cost and potential waste producing this type of modular system might even outweigh the reduced wastage of replacing modules rather than entire phones.

Burty117 Burty117, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

This is kinda how I imagine Phones from Mass Effect would be like, But in the real world? Technology isn't there yet, this is possible, but god damn I can see it being expensive or not being a particularly fast phone.

In say 400 years time though? I can see it being possible to modify phones in this manner, But they probably won't look like this anymore xD

1 person liked this | lipe123 said:

Let me tell you something Mr Video.

You won't get a handset maker onboard with this (particularly Apple.)

They WANT you to throw away your old phone. They actively encourage you to upgrade your ENTIRE phone (BECAUSE MORE MONEYZ IN THE BANK) rather than individual pieces.

You want more battery? Well, Mr Samsung/Apple won't let you, because they are saving that for the next phone, in order to force you onto new phones in the future.

This is why Apple blocks new versions of iOS from moving onto older items. Nothing would stop my iTouch 2G from running iOS6 (and by extension the skin for it, iOS7.) Practically everything that is new to the UI since iOS2 has just been a rip from jailbreakers, so why not make newer versions avaliable?

Oh yes, they want you to buy their newest product, and piss away money.

What this is an attempt to do, is stop hipsters from buying a new phone every year..

Fat chance.

Erm you are wrong.

The markup on a 2$ item is WAY more than on a 200$ item. If you can make the blocks for 20$ and sell them for 40$ you will make LOADS more money than selling a $500 phone for $650. Also users currently are on 2-3 year contracts and wont buy a new phone every year but if you give them to option to change out blocks whenever they want they will do it WAY more often.

1 person liked this | Vrmithrax Vrmithrax, TechSpot Paladin, said:

The more I think about it, the more I think that the modular phone concept might be a bit over-reaching. Or just being made overly complex, in their plan to break out every little option. It would be far better to just make a few modules - processor/memory, camera, battery, radio... Then you get the version of the block that you want (LTE vs GSM radio, for example). Switch carriers? Just pick up a $30 radio block, swap it in, and you are good to go. Verizon and AT&T will HATE that idea, because it gives consumers too much choice and reduces their profit margins, but I don't care!

Honestly, I think the concept would work better as a whole with tablets... A block tablet setup, you pick the processor, memory, battery, screen, radio options... Edge connector for docks and keyboard modules, which could themselves be block based. It's a constant upgrader's dream setup! Might be a bit bulky, but it'd be easier to streamline block profiles when dealing with the much larger surface area available in tablets.

Arris Arris said:

I know at least they'd sell massive numbers of "Micro SD port module"!

Guest said:

You are right. They will not allow this, everything must be controlled, and so the phone owners completely too, not only some aspect, and those who will not be controlled in the future (which is almost now) will be suspicious:" Why are you not controlled, are You hiding something". Open Source Community in the future will be enemies of the state. Any state.

Guest said:

I think this will be really Nice!

Specialy the ability to make your own customization for your needs!

I think it will be some problems during/before the work but I hope it will go the way!

Good luck!

Guest said:

No, you are wrong. Selling $500 for $650 yields $150 in profit rather than $20 for a block. So the companies are better off selling phones than blocks. If something goes wrong with your phone companies would rather sell you a brand new phone, rather than a block which may fix the problem. And the 2 year contract you are talking about comes from phone service providers, not manufactories. The manufactories already made their money from service providers so they dont care about the upgrade limitations and the phone providers making money off the subscriptions.

Guest said:

I agree. Going camping? Lose the wifi, HD screen, etc, etc, and increase your battery size and switch to a lower power processor, maybe a massive camera. Buisness meetings all day? Lose the speakers and mics, large storage, camera, and massive battery; instead rely on easy power access, bluetooth head piece, and a massive screen with stylus. I envision a pile of modules I buy piece-mail and swap out as my daily needs dictate.

I haven't seen any comments on some other points (still reading comments), but I'm thinking this gets around several legal laws too such as RF radiation limits (want a 1+watt signal?). Or how about a remote battery pack like some of my head-lamps have? How about a hip-mounted/wired signal booster/battery? All of a sudden we aren't limited to what a handful of engineer's "think" we need.

20 years ago building your own PC was daunting to most people, now 8 year olds do it.

Guest said:

I'll have one. I could have a solar panel so I can leave it in the sun to help charge the battery

dennis777 dennis777 said:

And motorola is now working with phonebloks

[link]

Guest said:

The fact of the matter is, people are more comfortable buying $20 items as apposed to $650 items, therefore all you would need is 8 people to buy a block and you have made more than 1 person buying a handset.

Dave Blake said:

I think this whole thing hinges on an incorrect premise:

"What about all of the other components in your dated smartphone that are still perfectly fine and current?"

Think about it, when you replace your phone, which components are still "fine and current"? None! Every 2-3 years I get a new phone. It always has:

- A much higher resolution screen

- A different size (for a while I kept going smaller, now I'm going bigger)

- Much faster processor

- More responsive touch mechanism (today's capacitive overlays are a world better than old resistive ones)

- Better cameras, front and back

- Memory, battery... heck, everything!

I don't want anything from my old phone to move to my new one! And I don't think that most people really do, either.

This article starts out with a cool lego graphic, then quickly falls apart by relying on a flawed premise.

Zombie_Dad Zombie_Dad said:

This is kinda how I imagine Phones from Mass Effect would be like, But in the real world? Technology isn't there yet, this is possible, but god damn I can see it being expensive or not being a particularly fast phone.

In say 400 years time though? I can see it being possible to modify phones in this manner, But they probably won't look like this anymore xD

400 years you say lol that is laughable, this could be done here and now with the tech we have now with relative ease. the layout of his setup is less efficent but a more customizable version then the google modular phone in the works.

Zombie_Dad Zombie_Dad said:

I agree. Going camping? Lose the wifi, HD screen, etc, etc, and increase your battery size and switch to a lower power processor, maybe a massive camera. Buisness meetings all day? Lose the speakers and mics, large storage, camera, and massive battery; instead rely on easy power access, bluetooth head piece, and a massive screen with stylus. I envision a pile of modules I buy piece-mail and swap out as my daily needs dictate.

I haven't seen any comments on some other points (still reading comments), but I'm thinking this gets around several legal laws too such as RF radiation limits (want a 1+watt signal?). Or how about a remote battery pack like some of my head-lamps have? How about a hip-mounted/wired signal booster/battery? All of a sudden we aren't limited to what a handful of engineer's "think" we need.

20 years ago building your own PC was daunting to most people, now 8 year olds do it.

indeed 20 years ago I was learning how to use a pc so I could teach my mom lol. hmmm I was 9 then lol :D at 12 I rebuilt mine so pc's where easy then their simple now (building terms anyways) and that phoneblocks and the google modular phone I saw both my 6 year old could put together, shes been on a tablet since she was 2 and has her own pc allready that she can use efectivly already.

The future is now tech is here and your kids can use it as good as you if not better if given half a chance

ikesmasher said:

^I certainly hope kids will be able to use tech better than I can when they are my age. Most of my generation (high schoolers) cant use tech outside of social media to save their life.

Burty117 Burty117, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

400 years you say lol that is laughable, this could be done here and now with the tech we have now with relative ease. the layout of his setup is less efficent but a more customizable version then the google modular phone in the works.

Maybe not 400 years but definitely not today, All I've ever heard people say to me is "We can do this today, With today's technology". No we can't we're not even remotely close to the imaginative tech in mass effect, But 400 years? Na, probably 200 odd though for omni tools and the like.

Load all comments...

Add New Comment

TechSpot Members
Login or sign up for free,
it takes about 30 seconds.
You may also...
Get complete access to the TechSpot community. Join thousands of technology enthusiasts that contribute and share knowledge in our forum. Get a private inbox, upload your own photo gallery and more.