A smartphone with exchangeable hardware

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If you tell me that you’ve never complained about your phone, I’ll tell you that you’re lying. We’ve all had phones suddenly stop working or become painfully slow overnight for no reason. We’ve all seen a friend’s screen turn into an intricate web of fractures after a simple standing-height fall. When these things happen, one is not likely to upgrade the speed of their phone or replace the broken part. Instead, you dispose of it and get a new one. How fickle a relationship we have with our phones. A phone is something that most of us have on our person every waking minute, something that has gotten us out of endless problems, and yet it’s so easily discarded. Now, with Dave Hakkens’ amazing new idea, that relationship could get a lot more meaningful.

You may have heard about Phonebloks from various social media platforms, but if you haven’t, you will soon. Hakkens, a Dutch designer, has set up a Thunderclap (a crowd speaking platform that launches a message through people’s social media simultaneously on a certain date) that is expected to reach over 250 million people on Oct. 29. Put simply, Phonebloks is a customizable phone that operates using blocks placed into a circuit board to build a phone suited to your unique personal needs. The blocks attach to the back of the circuit board and are kept in place with a cover. Like taking pictures? Buy a bigger camera block. Need a keyboard? Buy a touch screen with the QWERTY keyboard. Store all your files on the cloud? Trade some memory blocks for faster speed. What’s more, if your phone stops working, instead of throwing it away, you can figure out what’s wrong and replace only that part, whether it’s your screen, your Wi-Fi, the gyroscope, etc.

Phones aren’t going away anytime soon (unless of course we all buy Google Glass and become goofy-looking cyborgs), so why not eliminate all the electronic waste that’s created when we buy every new iPhone that comes out? Why not have a phone that can last a while, and that matches our individual needs? It seems like the perfect solution to a modern phone user’s woes. Sadly, as many have pointed out, it can’t all be that easy.

As George Hahn of Generic Maker blog wrote, “I could see it happening with optical interconnects, but we’re a few years out from that.” Although Intel has had some success with the technology, it’s not something that will be feasible anytime soon. The blocks wouldn’t be able to communicate easily with one another while stuck onto a board. Hahn does see the point Hakkens is making about electronic waste and agrees with him, but says that “the best way to do that in the short term is to ensure devices are more repairable.”

So in the end, as amazing as a customizable phone would be, we might not see it on the shelves soon. Hopefully the buzz created through the Thunderclap will push phone developers to offer phones with a repairable aspect to them. Or, maybe it’ll push a keen university student out there to figure out the problem with Phonebloks and solve it. Who knows? Maybe, as long as the issue of electronic waste is raised and people start asking questions, the Phonebloks campaign will be a roaring success.

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