Juha Saarinen 's Opinion

Juha Saarinen is a tech blogger for nzherald.co.nz.

Juha Saarinen: The smartphone deconstructed

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If you could reuse and lengthen the lifespan of your current smartphone instead of shopping for a new one, there should be less e-waste. Photo / Getty Images
If you could reuse and lengthen the lifespan of your current smartphone instead of shopping for a new one, there should be less e-waste. Photo / Getty Images

One peculiar thing about smartphones is that they've been hugely successful despite selling as mainly closed units. That is, you can take off the back cover on many and remove the battery and add a memory card, but that's it: unlike standard PCs, there's no way to swap out components to upgrade them or to customise your device.

Whether or not you'd consider this a failing or a feature, some people believe that the world needs modular phones.

Want more memory for the phone? A better camera? Upgrade from 3G to 4G connectivity? Even a new, high resolution screen? You drop your phone and something breaks?

Easy - just swap out an old module for a new one in your phone's endoskeleton or frame.

Likewise, you could pick and choose the features you need - and don't - and only pay for what you want.

In fact, you could mix and match the best bits (or modules rather) from Vendor A and Vendor B, throw in some weirdness you like from Vendor C and have a hybrid phone.

Using different size frames, you could shrink and expand the smartphone as you like. Big or small? Your choice.

It might even be possible to use the modules in other, non-smartphone devices and appliances, depending on if the whole thing becomes a free, unlicensed open standard (and that's a big if).


Plus, since you can reuse and lengthen the lifespan of your phone, there should (in theory at least) be less e-waste.

This is essentially the smartphone deconstructed and recreated as an open hardware architecture. And, no matter how sceptical you might be about the feasibility of the concept, it is a fascinating notion.

From what I can tell, Dutch designer Dave Hakkens was one of the first people to think about the above with his Phonebloks project that tickled the interest of Motorola's mobile division which was later bought by Google.

Google is trying to turn the modular phone into reality through Project Ara which has released developer boards and importantly, started work on a system-on-a-chip (SoC) circuit to power it.

Chinese telco equipment giant ZTE is also keen on the idea, and had come up with the ECO-MOBIUS modular phone concept.

Not everyone thinks modular phones are the future however. Former Nomura Securities telecomms analyst Richard Windsor doesn't believe in Project Ara however.

What sinks the modular phone are ergonomics and economics, Windsor notes. A Project Ara phone will be clunkier and bigger than regular devices, plus it will be costlier to make and buy due to the different modules potentially having to be tested and packaged separately.

Windsor is sort of right, because right now, the likes of Project Ara are very, very experimental and unlikely appeal to anyone else apart from developers. This should change however, especially now that Google's backing the idea with its seemingly endless resources.

Where it does get interesting though is with modules that provide specialised features - these could be credit card readers for mobile point of sales apps, authentication modules for corporates, small projectors, health monitoring devices and more.

Being able to extend device functionality as per above along with improved integration and electronics shrinking, as well as the ability to tailor modular phones to different price points through modules and frame sizes could address Windsor's "two Es" issues, and make modular phone a reality.

Whether or not that'll be enough to lure customers away from cheap, all-in-one closed devices remains to be seen but the concept is cool enough to deserve to succeed.


Appmageddon time

I'll be using Windows a bit more from now, which should be interesting as Microsoft continues to iron out the wonkiness in its somewhat schizoid, mixed traditional and touch-based operating system.

One thing that I and many others haven't paid enough attention to is Windows Store or more precisely, the apps in it. There are many apps in Windows Store now, with Microsoft's Todd Brix who runs it claiming in April there are over 400,000 to choose from:



The problem here though is that many Windows Store apps were rubbish, bogus and misleading even. This is something Brix acknowledged end of last week when he announced a large purge of content from Windows Store.

So far, over 1,500 apps have got the chop thanks to Microsoft's review which is promising higher standards from now on. Credit for setting the clean up in motion should go to How To Geek, which in July trawled through Windows Store and found it laden with scammy apps that rip off real ones - and users.


Having had a quick look in Windows Store this weekend, I see that much of the scamware's gone which is good. There's still lots of dross available in Windows Store, and it would be better if Microsoft focused on quality, not quantity here.

- NZ Herald

Juha Saarinen

Juha Saarinen is a tech blogger for nzherald.co.nz.

Juha Saarinen is a technology journalist and writer living in Auckland. Apart from contributing to the New Zealand Herald over the years, he has written for the Guardian, Wired, PC World, Computerworld and ITnews Australia, covering networking, hardware, software, enterprise IT as well as the business and social aspects of computing. A firm believer in the principle that trying stuff out makes you understand things better, he spends way too much time wondering why things just don’t work.

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