Modular Phones: Piecing Together the Story

By Naman Misraraj | Staff Writer

Phones have come a long way in the past 15 years. Used only to make calls, the phones of old (while being incredibly innovative for their time) hold no comparison to today’s iPhones and Android phones. Smartphones today are essentially a physical manifestation of someone’s identity, both physical and digital. Photos capture your life, social media captures your personality, and apps of every variety capture your insatiable appetite for cat gifs. People are at the center of our lives, and phones are the gateway through which we communicate with them, so it makes sense that a phone today is essentially your life in a thin metallic brick.

The general idea of phone ownership in the United States can be boiled down to a few steps. First, we purchase a phone with a network service. Second, we use the phone for about two years (the usual length of a phone service contract). And third, after the contract expires, we eventually upgrade to a newer phone and re-sign the contract. Additionally, while no-contract carriers like T-Mobile and prepaid carriers like MetroPCS and Cricket are different in terms of contracts, the same steps apply: we buy a phone, we use it, and eventually we replace it and start the process over.

Now comes the interesting bit: modularity. The idea of modular electronics is simple: instead of replacing a phone hgbecause the screen cracked, you could just replace the screen module yourself. Instead of upgrading because your phone was slow and couldn’t keep up, you could just buy a faster processor module and swap it out. This idea was kick-started by Google’s Project Ara. Ara is a prototype modular smartphone that comes in multiple sizes, and allows for complete physical modularity. All aspects of the phone are replaceable in modules, and a steel frame acts as the central skeleton.

Ara has been in development for more than two years, but Google still has to tackle all the challenges that come with creating a phone with a brand new form factor from the ground up. For example, Ara uses strong magnets to keep modules in place, but according to a tweet from Project Ara, the modules kept falling out, and the team was forced to find a new solution to keep the modules in place.

This all seems incredibly far off, but it’s closer than you might think. February is the month of the Mobile World Congress, a mobile phone convention where manufacturers showcase their flagship smartphones for the year. This year, LG released the newest iteration of their android phone, the G5. Make no mistake, the G5 isn’t a fully modular phone; it’s not Ara. But what’s important is that the G5 is bringing the idea of modularity to the mass market. The G5 has what it calls a ‘magic slot’- essentially a multifunction port that plugs into a battery and the phone. the phone comes with a generic attachment, but is offering different adapters, such as a grip with camera controls or a bigger battery, as well as a digital-to-analog audio converter. While not fully modular, the LG G5 presents consumers with a brand new experience: being able to add additional functionality to a device they already own.

Modular technology is the future, especially for students. As college individuals, our phones are permanently affixedkljhkvgc to our bodies, and for good reason. We walk to class with Spotify, use Hotseat in class for quiz points, and Yik-Yak to bond over our love of Windsor’s cinnamon rolls. However, higher-education is expensive, and carrying a device with you wherever you go makes it more prone to getting damaged. Cracked phone screens and non-functioning cameras are problems that can be solved without requiring the purchase of an entirely new device. Modular phones will be a college student’s budget’s best friend.

Now it seems we are some ways off from what seems like a dream come true, but fear not, for if 2016 has told us anything so far, it’s that the future is closer than it seems.