We’ve been hearing about the idea of modular smartphones increasingly over the past year or so, especially once the base idea behind Phonebloks was picked up by Google to transform into what is now known as Project Ara. Project Ara, when released (January 2015, allegedly), would be the first smartphone to use interchangeable “blocks”, or modules, in order for users to customize their smartphones much more than is currently feasible.
As cool as that idea might sound to folks who are really into smartphones, though, it might be nothing short of daunting for people who aren’t quite savvy in the industry. It’s like trying to hand a fixer-upper of a car to somebody who drives cars, but has no idea how cars work. You can give me all of the parts to make the car work like it’s brand spanking new, but in the end I’m still not really going to be interested in piecing that together. I need something that’s already put together - or in the very least, requires extremely minimal effort when it comes to “customizing” said vehicle.
That’s kind of where Puzzlephone comes in.
Puzzlephone is a modular smartphone of sorts as well, but not as complicated as Project Ara. With Puzzlephone you can still swap out different modules, but you’re limited to just three modules: “the brain”, “the spine”, and “the heart”. The brain is described as holding the main electronics and can be developed to any specific purpose; the spine is going to be your screen, buttons, microphone and speakers; the heart contains the battery and “secondary electronics”. So while each part focuses on multiple aspects of a phone, the Puzzlephone manages to simplify things by condensing what the user controls into just three replaceable parts rather than six or seven.
It seems kind of early for Project Ara to have a competitor, but I can absolutely see where Puzzlephone would fit in. I have mentioned before that while I am positively stoked about the possibilities that Ara will bring, I do have concerns about how far the modular concept can actually go in this industry. Yes, customization is becoming a pretty big deal. Motorola’s Moto Maker is a pretty sweet deal when it comes to smartphone customization today in the sense that if you’re tired of the standard colors that most smartphones come in, Motorola has you covered - at least for the Moto X. But when it comes to internals? Well, I’m pretty sure we’ve all had those moments where we hummed and haww’d over whether we want x phone or y phone because each had features we liked, but neither featured both. A simple way to solve that is through modular phones.
But it is still a complicated concept that many people might not feel comfortable jumping in to, so having something like Puzzlephone - which gives people a taste for customization, but not completely overwhelm them - can really take care of that part of the market of people who are interested but afraid to jump with both feet in. Puzzlephone, while being somewhat competitive with Ara, is more of a “stepping stone” rather than direct competition. It’s definitely something I think that many will agree will help the modular phone idea rather than take away from it.
It’s still up in the air whether modular phones will truly ever be a big part of smartphone culture in the future, but I feel that it’s one of the more intriguing ideas out there. If nothing else, there’s definitely going to be a niche market that will latch on to it, and hopefully help it to grow. It's interesting to me that there are already "competitors" out there, despite the fact that the first modular phone hasn't even been released yet. This makes me think that there must be some demand for a modular phone out there.
Readers, what are your thoughts about modular phones? Do you think that the idea will eventually be a big success among smartphone users, or do you think it will only ever be a niche product? Do you feel like Puzzlephone has a place in the industry as well? Let us know in the comments below!