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Extreme phone customization: is this the future?

by Joe Levi on

Today’s smartphones are essentially just miniaturized computers. They contain a CPU, GPU, screen, RAM, storage, networking components, and more. Computers, like the one on which I’m writing this article, allow for a certain level up upgradeability. If I want a faster processor, I simply have to remove the old one and replace it with a faster one. If I want more RAM, I simply plug in a new module. If I want better graphics, all I need to do is plug in a new video card or monitor. If I want more storage space, I just plug in a bigger SSD. Why aren’t smartphones capable of being upgraded in this manner? Why can’t they be easily configured at the hardware level either? If one guy has his way, extreme phone customization may be just around the corner. It’s ugly as sin, but the concept is beautiful!

Before we get into that, let’s look at why we upgrade or replace our phones.

They break

Let’s face it, phones are fragile things. Throw them against the wall or drop them on the cement just a couple times, and inevitably their screens shatter. It’s as if they’re made of glass, or something. Of course, they can also break in other ways, but glass breakage seems to be the most memorable type.

When this happens, what do we do? Most of us throw our phone in the nearest electronics recycling bin and replace it with another one. Others will either have someone else attempt to repair it, or we’ll try to repair it ourselves. Unfortunately, most phones today aren’t all that easy to fix, and often times the repair is half the cost of the latest version.

Wouldn’t it be nice if components were easy to replace? If your screen broke, you’d just undo a couple screws, pop the old screen off, snap the new one in, replace the screws, and be on your way.

Better stuff comes along

I’m fairly certain that’s the technical way to say that.

We’ve been hearing a lot about high-resolution cameras lately. Wouldn’t it be cool if you could simply buy a new camera module and replace your existing camera with it? How about a bigger battery or a faster processor? Maybe more RAM or storage space? How about if you could upgrade your display from 720P to 1080P just my replacing the screen module?

Currently we have to buy the latest and greatest phone out there so we can hope to get more usable life out of it before we have to upgrade. It’s a balancing act: spend the money on a high-end phone now, or spend the money on replacing a mid- or low-end phone sooner than we’d like.

If we were able to simply upgrade our current devices, we’d spend the money on the platform up-front, and continually invest in upgrades as we need or want them.

Reducing waste

Electronics is a particularly dirty industry.  Most items of this type can’t be “thrown away” because of heavy metals and exotic elements. Instead they must be properly handled until they can be reclaimed — but that is a very toxic process. What’s more, we’re making a LOT of e-waste these days — and it’s only getting worse.

A solution?

A guy named Dave Hakkens came up with the idea to build a platform, rather than a phone. You know what, rather than trying to explain it, just play the video, it’s pretty descriptive of the concept and I think you’ll get the direction he’s headed.

He doesn’t want to make your next phone. He’s not the next Samsung, HTC, or Microsoft Nokia. Instead, he’s more of a visionary. He’s trying to get the concept into the minds of the big OEMs. Ideally, they’d each sign on to the concept and make inter-connectable components. You could have parts of your phone from all the big players.

Sure, it’s a noble idea, and its wrought with perils, but the idea of a component-based approach to making smartphones is simply brilliant. It’s taking what Motorola is doing with the Moto X with its comparatively limited customization, and going to the root of the problem: the phone itself.

I, for one, don’t like the conceptual design that Dave has come up with, but I think he’s illustrating the concept more than the envisioned design. Regardless, I’m tired of not being able to upgrade my phone, replace my battery, or even add additional storage. I want the same flexibility that I have with my computer in my phone, and I don’t think that ability is too far off.

Do you?

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