Good Design | Phonebloks

“Every year millions of mobile phones are thrown away because they are broken or obsolete. In most of these cases it is just one part that needs repairing or upgrading and all the other parts work fine.”

Dave Hakkens, founder of PhoneBloks

Well it seems like the phone announcement of the year hasn’t come from Apple or Samsung this month, but from a radical concept called Phonebloks. Designer Dave Hakkens, frustrated with the amount of phones that find there way into landfill each year and the fact that you have to replace your whole phone when one component dies, decided to do something about it. Phonebloks is his answer and as a concept, it’s genius. It’s an entirely open source smartphone that you can customise as you wish, swapping faulty bloks for new ones and adding the devices you value the most.

Reaction on the internet however has been mixed, with some saying it is meerly a utopian concept that will never see the light of day. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons.

Phonebloks at this point is purely a concept. Not a product, or even a prototype but a concept. This means that what you see in the video is likely to be a million miles away from what will actually land in your hands if Phonebloks is built in reality. So the issue of aesthetics (which is purely subjective anyway) is really void at this point. Yes it is literally a grey blok with a screen at the moment, but bring in a couple of Johnny Ive’s calibre designers and you could very soon have some super sexy looking bloks to connect.

The idea of an open source phone where individual parts can be upgraded when needed is such a revolutionary concept that it seems like one of those ‘why hasn’t anyone done this already?’ ideas. This mobile phone exists of separate components that can be ‘clicked’ together. Every component has its own function i.e. Bluetooth, WiFi, battery, display etc. When one of these components does not work, it can be replaced with a new one.

When one of these components needs upgrading, same story: replace that specific component with a new one. Choosing separate components enables you to personalise your mobile phone to your needs. Are you into taking photos? Go for the best camera. Are you working in the ‘cloud’? Choose less storage. No need for a specific function? Go back to basic and choose a top notch battery. It really is genius!

As it stands there is valid argument to say that the technology is not quite ready to support separate components being connected together i.e. it would slow down the processing speed and would increase the handset cost. These seem to be issues that can be solved in the fairly immediate future however and are not the phones main hurdle in going mainstream.

The real challenge is how the existing mobile phone giants in the market react to a product that undermines the very existence of their current business model. As it stands, manufacturers make billions from us upgrading and replacing our phones every 18 – 24 months. Also, which operating system will Phonebloks use? As the Android system is itself built on an open source system, it seems likely that they would be the first choice. Or maybe Phonebloks are planning their own custom OS?

At this stage it is also unclear how Phonebloks plans to formulate it’s own business model, will they raise kickstarter funding? Or will they try and sell to one of the more progressive manufacturers? It still remains to be seen.

One thing is clear though, Phonebloks as a concept has already garnered a huge amount of consumer support gaining over 12,000,000 YouTube views and reaching over 250,000,000 people (to date) via thunderclap! It may not be doable just yet but any idea that has the power to radically re-imagine an entire industry for the better is one Good Design will 100% get behind. And it has certainly got a lot of people talking. As Steve Jobs himself said “The ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do”.