Modular Cell Phones May Change How We Buy Technology

Mobile devices have become an essential part of everyday life for most people but, with the exception of a small percentage of specialized devices, they tend to be dangerously delicate for  items with such high price tags. As a fail-safe for their investment, consumers are incentivized to purchase insurance for their devices. The contract insurance is only able to provide consumers with a newly refurbished replacement, which translates to “previously broken” device. The original device is then shipped off to continue the “Circle of Cellphone Life” by becoming a refurbished device itself.

Nevertheless, insurance is the best way  for consumers to protect themselves from being without communication. The monthly rates and additional fees are viewed as the lesser of two evils when compared to the notion of spending upwards of $500 for a factory-fresh replacement. According to Bloomberg, Verizon reported a profit of $98 million in 2010 just from the sale of device insurance. More recently, in 2013, Verizon earned a total of $7.8 billion on the sales of device insurance. Fees for the insurance plans can range from $7 to $12 per month. In the event of injury to the device, the contract mandates the consumer pay an additional $99 for the replacement. The cycle results in a sprawling, endless money pit for consumers and a consistent, reliable cash flow for providers.

Beginning in 2013, the whispers about  modular mobile devices begin to creep throughout the various tech-blogging websites on the internet. Gadget fanatics were excitedly talking about a smartphone that disassembles and reassembles as simply as Lego blocks. This thoughtful and revolutionary design would allow consumers to replace and upgrade individual components of the phone at will with ease, eliminating the need for the financially draining insurance. The idea began with Phonebloks, a company founded by designer, Dave Hakkens, in 2012. The small company consists of just four employees, but the concept that their brand introduced has become a pervasive idea in the minds of frustrated smartphone users.

While Phonebloks has been unable to raise the necessary funding on its own in order to move forward with its project, the idea had coincidentally also been appropriated by mega-corporation, Google. Google announced on October 29th, 2013 that its next leap forward in the development of its own technology would be a project with a resoundingly familiar intention. Project Ara was designed to be a modular mobile device wherein the individual components fit together like playing blocks. Just as with the Phonebloks design, the individual parts of the device can be replaced or upgraded at will. Ara devices are being produced by Google’s subsidiary, Motorola. The first installments in what could be a line of devices is set to be released in early 2015 at a cost of only $50. Phonebloks and Google have since formed a loose partnership bent on propagating the concept of modular phones while still committed to producing their own distinct devices.

The two companies hold fastly to the belief that technology must change in accordance with the needs of the consumer. Acknowledging that consumers want a phone that they can keep rather than throw out due to a breakdown or the release of a more capable device. The release of Ara in 2015 has the potential to incite a drastic change in the way that consumers purchase and maintain their mobile phones. The fickle love that users carry from one tech release to the next may finally come to settle on one completely customizable device.

Modular cellular phones may be the next step in the evolution of communications devices, with modularized computers already under discussion as a means of avoiding the enforced obsolescence factor built into the current generation of those devices.

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