It’s like Lego for the environmentally conscious.
When your battery begins to struggle, your Wi-Fi carks it, or your processor bows out, most people use that as impetus for an expensive new smartphone purchase. Dave Hakkens is not most people.
When the camera stopped working on his smartphone, this Dutch designer got to thinking, surely trashing this expensive gadget to make way for a new one wasn’t the only option. And like that, the Phonebloks concept came to light.
What are Phonebloks?
Phonebloks is a modular smartphone concept that consists of a main board (think of it like a cork board) with a range of customisable ‘bloks’ plugged into it. Each block is a different component: Wi-Fi, camera, battery, or processor, which would normally be hidden away within a sealed unit (and near impossible to replace), much like the iPhone.
It’d come as no surprise if you’d already heard about this innovative project as their carefully coordinated social media campaign through Twitter, Facebook, and Thunderclap managed to reach 380 million people and gather the support to the tune of 950,000 people. If you didn’t happen to sit among the 380 million people that Phonebloks reached, let us tell you why Phonebloks’ replaceable components are so amazing...
Does it help to reduce e-waste?
As quickly as the technological revolution came, so did wave-after-wave of outdated and discarded electronics. The process of disposing and dismantling this waste has, as you could imagine, proven to have some pretty drastic effects on the environment. One study in Guiyu, China found that disposing of electronics produced airborne toxins, an abundance of carcinogens in waterways, and a massive increase in lead and copper in road dust. So, yeah, it’s a pretty big deal.
The problem has existed for a while now, but at the rate that companies like Apple and Samsung are pushing out devices that supercedes everything else on the market, it’s only getting worse. How bad is it getting? Well, to give you a rough idea of electronic waste around the world, let’s look at one of the biggest culprits, the US. In 2008, the US generated 3.16 million tons of e-waste, of which, only 13.6% was recycled. Pretty crazy numbers, right? If those numbers scare you, you might want to look away. Because in 2012, the US generated over 10 million tons of e-waste. That’s a 216% increase in just four years. Though there are arguments that Phonebloks would, in reality, have a negative impact on e-waste (due to people upgrading their bloks far more often than they would their phones), Phonebloks aim to reduce worldwide e-waste by allowing you to upgrade, swap, and sell single components, rather than entire handsets.
Do I need to be a tech genius to use it?
Have you ever constructed a Meccano set, built with Lego blocks or, god forbid, Mega Blox? Then congratulations, you’re fully qualified to swap out components from a Phonebloks smartphone. Bloks are small, sturdy bricks that plug directly into the motherboard. You simply unlock the phone (much like you would ‘eject’ a USB from a computer) and remove or replace bloks at your own pleasure.
Another benefit of the modular concept phone is that you can readily switch out important components to suit the way you use your phone. Already carry a digital camera with you at most times? Then you can easily remove the camera block to free up some real estate for more memory. Or, say you store all of your content on the cloud, then go ahead and remove some of that internal memory and plug in a larger battery block. That’s what’s so convenient about Phonebloks — the ability to create a phone that suits your lifestyle.
If Phonebloks interests you, then Project ARA will blow your mind...
The modular smartphone concept — Phonebloks — is just that, a concept. The campaign began not as marketing for an actual smartphone, but more as a call out to smartphone developers around the world. And it looks like they were listening, because Google is currently working on the most advanced prototype of the Phonebloks concept, Project ARA. Colourful modules lock into an endoskeletal frame via electro=permanent magnets which can be switched on (locked) and off (unlocked) using an electrical pulse.
The modules slide in and out with ease, and communicate with each other and the main board through wireless capacitive pads. Project ARA is a massive leap forward from the Phonebloks concept, technologically and aesthetically. The ATAP team at Google have taken the Phonebloks concept and turned it into a sleek modular smartphone that is desirable to say the least.
Again, the ARA is not a smartphone currently in development, but more of a blueprint that phone developers can follow to create modular smartphones. Regardless, it’s an exciting, and eco-friendly concept that we can get behind.