HolidayBuyer's Guide

Phonebloks: a modular smartphone you can update one piece at a time

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

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

Photo by (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, it's 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 greatly 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.

Photo by (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 customise your Phonebloks as required; say you didn't need a gyroscope, but wanted a better camera; 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; or if you didn't want the audio jack, but could use some additional processing power. 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, 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, it would be a lot harder to realise 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 on board with a social-media shout out on 29 October to attract research investors and vendors. You can join in by adding your support on Phonebloks' Thunderclap page.

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