Spotlight: Phonebloks, an ‘App Store for Hardware’

Just as the European smartphone manufacturing market was starting to look a little empty, a young designer called Dave from the Netherlands has cause quite a stir with a concept called Phonebloks.

The idea behind Phonebloks is that users will be able to customise their handset by attaching component ‘bloks’ – whether it’s a processor, battery, camera or even a display – to a pin-based motherboard.

Concerned that consumers are too quick to throw electronics away when they stop working, Dave Hakken’s idea is that each blok could be replaced or upgraded when necessary. In a swipe at the large OEMs, already critcised forsourcing components from conflict zones and having questionable manufacturing processes, Hakkens also points out that current mobile phones are not designed for repairs or upgrades.

Termed an ‘app store for hardware’, third parties would be able to build their own components for the Phonebloks blokstore, everyone from startups to traditional tech players, with the proceeds split between the store and the developer.

Hakkens is not seeking to crowdfund Phonebloks, or rely on a single investor, and is instead using ‘crowdspeaking’ platform Thunderclap to coordinate a wave of individual support for Phonebloks across Twitter, Facebook and Google+, making any potential investors aware of the demand. The number of supporters has already reached 639,298 – 98 per cent of the target – but the R&D on this rather ambitious idea is likely to take far longer.

The Phonebloks site outlines potential subscription services so Phonebloks owners can get regular updates to hardware and send back their old parts. People with specific needs – solar batteries, a high-end camera or large screens for the visually impaired – can choose their components accordingly. And more blocks means a larger device, so tablets are also on the horizon too.

“The market of electronic devices is growing rapidly, but it feels like we are building disposable stuff,” said Hakkens. “Every time we make something new we completely throw away the old one. Imagine all the good displays, bluetooths and speakers we have thrown away. I love the connected world that we live in and it’s time to set up a universal modular platform that companies work on together.”

It’s unclear whether this technology could actually come into production, at least any time soon, but the idea behind Phonebloks – and Hakken’s mission statement of ‘trying to make the world better by making things’ – is a breath of fresh air for the industry. See an explainer video from Phonebloks below.

Written for Mobile Marketing Magazine and first published here.

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