Phonebloks  screenshot

Phonebloks

The problem

Nowadays, millions of electronic devices are thrown away because they get obsolete or they become worn out. Normally, the problem lays in a specific component, such as a broken motherboard, an outdated camera or insufficient storage ability. The rest of the device may still work fine, but it is needlessly thrashed.

Other major cause of devices being trashed is the planned obsolescence; almost every electronic device is regulated by that policy today. This is a built-in “death mechanism” which makes a product to have a limited useful life. All in all, these kinds of devices are not made to last. This is why electronic waste is a huge problem as it has become one of the fastest growing waste streams in the entire planet. Our phones are one of the biggest causes of this gigantic environmental issue.

The average phone only lasts a couple years before it becomes outdated, or it breaks. Almost in every case, it is one single part what kills the whole device, but we still throw it away to get a new one, because it’s difficult or expensive to repair a non-removable broken component. Besides, these devices are massively produced, which means that a small but noticeable percentage of the total number of units created may show some manufacturing defects, increasing the previously mentioned amount of existing e-waste.

So, what is a Phoneblok?

We all have Smartphones today. Most of the consumers wait in line for hours and spend insane amounts of money to get them when they are all new, but they become outdated in a relatively short period of time because another innovation comes out with an S at the end of its name and featuring a bigger camera among other outstanding improvements such as… almost nothing (Yes, we are talking about the iPhone). This is the ridiculously short life cycle of a mobile phone nowadays.

Now imagine if you could upgrade the camera of your device without having to trash it and get the brand new “S” model, or even increase its RAM memory so you can handle more processes simultaneously. Phonebloks could do that for you. A Phoneblok is an upgradeable Lego-like Smartphone made of detachable, individual blocks. Each one contains a specific component of the phone, such as the battery, the audio jack, the storage unit or the gyroscope. Those self-contained “bloks” are connected to a base filled with round openings, which locks everything into a solid, seamless device. The bloks are plugged in the mainboard with pins. Those connectors transfer electrical signals to this base, making it work. If a blok stops functioning you can easily replace it; if it gets obsolete simply upgrade it. For instance, if your processor is running a little slow, you just have to replace the blok that affects the speed.

Although the Phoneblok is only a project right now, implementation of these swappable pieces would mean a true revolution; we would be able to upgrade the hardware as easily as we upgrade the software. The use of replaceable blocks makes possible almost infinite combinations. Besides, this platform can be adapted into other new devices such as tablets or cameras.

Customize your device

Bloks come in different sizes and shapes, so you can configure your own phone depending on your preferences or necessities. This grants the user full customizability and a huge and simplified technological flexibility. For instance, people who work with “cloud” documents don’t really need a huge amount of memory. You can then replace the memory blok (since your files are in the cloud) and use a bigger battery blok, which enables your phone to work for more time. Some people love to take pictures with their phones. In this case, you can rearrange the components of the phone and make some room for a bigger camera. Other people just don’t care about these improvements and believe it or not, they use their phones to call and receive calls. If it is your case, you can keep it simple by adding a bigger speaker and battery, avoiding other non-essential upgrades.

Besides, having always the same standardized phone means that you can keep all your accessories. There will be no need of getting new docks, covers or cables for your Phoneblok. The structure of your device will remain the same; bloks are the only interchangeable components, and they don’t affect other accessories.

Bloks to the people

Smartphone owners can get new applications easily through the App store or Google play. Blokstore is the same marketplace concept, except that this one offers hardware instead of software. Users can literally build their own devices. You can buy bloks for your phone, read reviews about some component specifications or even sell your old bloks. If you are looking for a camera blok, you can choose your favorite brand. You will be free to pick the Nikon, a Canon lens or give your support to a startup company. You can also get a pre-assembled phone or create it yourself by selecting which brands you want it to support. Moreover, the store would offer a subscription service with which you never get outdated. Subscribers receive a new block periodically to stay updated, you just have to install it and send back the replaced one.

Phonebloks is built on an open platform, which encourages many different companies to work together to create the best Smartphone in the world while it helps to fix the ecosystem and simplifies our lives! If the project progresses, many developers could build their own compatible bloks in order to achieve a wide range of options for the users so they can make their phones fully customizable.

The stepping stone

This innovative project was fully developed by Dave Hakkens and it needed the support of the people to grow and draw the attention of companies around the world to start a real development process. In fact, he started a thunderclap campaign (which is a crowd-speaking platform) to join the people together and spread his idea to the world. Main goal of 500 supporters was cracked and now the total is over 381,823,577 enthusiasts on 29th October 2013. Other communities such as reddit and youtube also helped Phonebloks to reach these amazing numbers.

Now the project has moved to the next phase. Motorola works in a similar device, Project Ara. It is designed to last, is an open source and modular, just like Phonebloks. Hakkens now cooperates with Motorola to share experiences and ideas which they would include in their devices, and they do it in the open. In fact, they now try to build an online place where they can share those thoughts and improvements so people can see every stage of both projects. Although they work together, Phonebloks and Ara are independent, so the Bloks don’t rely on funding of Motorola. Hakkens is now launching a crowdfunding campaign in order to raise some money to keep the project alive and give people the ultimate phone platform in the near future.