Phonebloks: A modular phone you update a piece at a time

Rather than throwing out an entire smartphone when something breaks or you want to upgrade, the Phonebloks concept fits together like Lego so you can swap pieces out as needed.

Michelle Starr Science editor
Michelle Starr is CNET's science editor, and she hopes to get you as enthralled with the wonders of the universe as she is. When she's not daydreaming about flying through space, she's daydreaming about bats.
Michelle Starr
2 min read
Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET Australia

One of the most annoying things about some smartphones (and other gadgets) is that they don't have removable batteries. Or you can't upgrade the memory. Or once the screen breaks, that's it, game over. Or you have found another phone with, say, a camera that better suits your needs. You have to replace an otherwise perfectly cromulent gadget because one part failed to function as it should, or as you want it to.

And what happens to that old phone? Most of them end up languishing in drawers or tucked away on shelves. Some end up in landfills. But this waste could be reduced if Dutch designer Dave Hakkens' Phonebloks concept ever came to fruition.

The concept is really very simple. Each device consists of a motherboard drilled with holes. On the front, you can mount a detachable display; on the back are all of the hardware features that make the phone work, such as the battery and mobile antenna. The holes in the motherboard contain electrical connectors, which form a circuit with the conductive pins of the blocks, creating a fully functional -- and fully upgradeable -- phone.

Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET Australia

But it's not just about getting a better battery or a higher-resolution screen, which can be switched out as needed. You would also be able to customize your Phonebloks as required. Say you didn't need a gyroscope, but wanted a better camera. Or didn't want the audio jack, but could use some additional processing power. Or if you didn't want bells and whistles, but just a dumbphone that could send and receive calls and texts, you could dump all the frills and install a better battery. Depending on what components were available, and whether you could jiggle them to fit like a puzzle, you could potentially build whatever phone you wanted.

Or if you had spare parts, you could switch your phone around to suit different needs at different times.

This would then all be held together by screwing a holding plate in place, so that it wouldn't burst apart like, well, a Lego Death Star if you dropped it.

We suspect that like most concepts, this would be a lot harder to realize in real life than it is in rendering, but we sure hope Hakkens manages to figure it out, because from where we're sitting, it looks like a piece of solid fried genius.

The project will be trying to get investors onboard with a social-media shout out on October 29 to attract research investors and vendors. You can join in by adding your support on Phonebloks' Thunderclap page.

(Source: CNET Australia)