A chip off a new blok

With smartphones now a facet of everyday life, Karl Quigley looks at the latest innovations in the industryMoore’s Law observes that electronics and hardware become twice as fast or half the size every two years. In such a world where everything is done at high speeds, people require technology that can keep up. This is where the smartphone came in. However, as Dave Hakkens claims on YouTube, “Everyday we throw away millions of electronic devices because they become old and worn out.”

According to Mr. Hakkens, electronic waste is one of the fastest growing waste streams in the world, and our phone is one of the biggest causes. He goes on to claim that this breakdown of technology is due to one component failing while all the other pieces remain functioning. The problem is that electronic devices are not designed to last. His solution? Phonebloks.

We start off with a simple motherboard base, a very simple looking piece with lines of holes for the detachable ‘bloks’ to fit in. These bloks slot in easily using electrical pins and a screen is attached to the opposite side, with everything secured by two screws. It is his reasoning that this next level of customisation is perfect for our fast moving world.

Battery power too low? Get a bigger battery blok. Rarely use the camera? Downgrade to a smaller variant for more space. Perhaps your phone is getting slower over time; simply upgrade the blok that affects speed. If a part is damaged or broken, there is no new phone required or repair needed; just replace the blok. It is an interesting concept and one that is just in its infancy.

Currently Hakkens is relying on a mass media surge on social networking to increase awareness of his project for funding. The project is an ambitious one thatt will likely receive a lot of support. The only concern is that of cost. At face value, it appears to be cheaper, with the idea of individual components and replacements from time to time being far more cost effective than buying a new phone.

Hakkens claims Phonebloks is “built on an open platform where companies work together to make the best phone in the world.” This means that every electronic company under the sun, if this project launches, will make a variety of bloks in each different category. From Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, to phone screens and battery packs.

While the base itself will be relatively cheap, given it is a group of circuits allowing connectivity, it is difficult to see how the cost would not add up. Each individual blok, regardless of its use, would be priced high by the bigger brands. And with the ability to develop your own bloks, smaller companies and enthusiastic individuals will begin to create their own.

An example of user-created content taking favour among the people would be the App store. This platform gives an open opportunity to developers worldwide to create a product or service that is cheaper and sometimes better than the larger brands.

Hakkens also wants to demonstrate to the companies that there is interest in “a phone worth keeping.” On October 29th there will be what is called a social media ‘thunderclap’ in which he hopes to spread the name of Phonebloks across Facebook and set it as a trending tag on Twitter. It will be interesting to see if this project will leave the ground, and if so, where it will go from there.

The Phonebloks project will hope to eventually compete with the likes of Apple, who announced the iPhone 5C and 5S on 10 September in their official World Wide Developer Conference. The 5C is very simply the iPhone 5, but has a plastic unibody with a steel structure design and a higher capacity battery.

The 5S, however, carried some heavier upgrades, with the introduction of the new A7 processor chip. This makes the iPhone 5S the first ever 64-bit CPU smartphone. In other words, it will be twice the speed of an iPhone 5 and carry twice the graphical power. It also carries an M7 motion processor, which only has a use in health applications.

Alongside this was the addition of an even larger battery life, a better camera with bigger pixels for better quality, more features with the camera like image stabilisation and slow motion. The most impressive addition to the 5S is easily the Touch ID.

This will allow access to your phone without the need for a pass code and the ability to pay for iTunes purchases using your fingerprint. Your print is also safe, with Apple claiming that it is not stored on their servers or on Apple iCloud.

The flashing problem is the memory of Android’s facial recognition feature and it’s not so impressive execution. Hopefully, this will new feature will be better and work as well as they claim.

Both of these new announcements mark two definitive sides of the up and coming generation of smartphones. Apple strive to build on a strong foundation while people like Dave Hakkens move in a creative yet utilitarian view of the world with limited resources. On either side, there will undoubtedly be plenty of people to follow and support these products.