Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Phone For Life

The Phoneblocks concept 
Could closed integrated systems be closing innovation and development in the smartphone market?

Over the last decade smartphones had been developing quickly - smartphone makers released news phones every year and people typically replaced their phones every 2 or 3. However, smartphone innovation has slowed to a crawl and doesn't seem to be going anywhere fast anymore ... the annual new phone releases are for the most part small incremental changes. Smartphones today seem good enough - its no longer really necessary to change your phone every two or three years ... yet the market and products we have are locked into the short product cycle of the past. Nowhere is this more evident than with smartphone batteries and with the iPhone slowdown update - while Apple said this was to prevent older phones shutting people were suspicious that this was to "encourage" them to buy a new phone. Apple subsequently apologised and reduced the price of a battery replacement with the logic ..."replacing an affected iPhone's battery also restores its performance" 

Once upon a time it was normal to be able to change the batteries in our smartphones and even longer ago, when smartphones were known as PDAs we could even buy jackets to give them additional power and functions. The development of the smartphone seems to have gone the same way as the PC ... initially very modular with rapid development and innovation they eventually became increasingly closed and integrated and either causally or coincidentally development and innovation slowed.

Given that we carry our phones around with us all the time its not surprising that so many get broken so quickly ... its probably the case that all of us have dropped and damaged  a smartphone screen at some time and the cost of repair is so high we might as well get a new phone ... especially if the damaged phone is a few years old. 

Without upgrade capability and with expensive and limited repair options Smartphones can for most of use be pretty much thought of sealed and disposable products and very expensive disposable products at that. 

Sealed and disposable by design and with people now so dependent and even addicted to their smartphones the industry is intent on holding people to ransom and forcing them to replace their phones every three years at the most ... Google for example stating that for Android "After 3 years, we can't guarantee more updates".

The smartphone market has matured and rather than the hotbed of innovation it once was it now all the hallmarks of a deathbed and a protection racket.

Could open modular smartphones be the next big thing for smartphones ... just imagine smartphone hardware that you could customise, mix and match, repair and maintain and upgrade or downgrade.

Could open modular smartphones give new life to smartphone development and innovation ... imagine an open ecosystem of module suppliers and a market for second hand modules. Imagine being able to add in new screens, batteries, AI modules, 3D scanning and depth sensing, 360 imagery, higher definition cameras, new generation networking and having your smartphone and its modules as part of new ecosystems such as wearable IoT and home automation.

Could open modular smartphones give new life to smartphones or will the spark just create frankenstein monsters - the concept is good in theory but difficult to achieve in an acceptable way in practice. Besides, open modularity usually occurs in the hotbed at the beginning of innovation cycles rather than the death bed of mature technologies where sunk investments and the force of gravity slow sink innovations into black holes. 

Open and modular smartphones will never happen because its not in the interests of the industry ... while some such as Google experimented with the a modular smartphone  (project Ara) as a platform technology but ultimately pulled the plug ... preferring to hold people to ransom with the products they had. Google's Ara was interesting but as platform tech it wasn't the type of open tech I have in mind. 

Imagine a phone for life ... one that you could repair and re-mix over time ... it will never happen though .... the next big thing will happen with some other type of tech but we can always wonder.

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