PhoneBloks

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= a mobile phone that can be configured, upgraded, repaired

URL = www.phonebloks.com/


Contents

Description

Sepp Hasslberger:

"Phonebloks is an idea. A mobile phone that can be configured, upgraded and repaired. No one is making it yet, but a campaign for its existence is about to launch… a thunderclap (www.thunderclap.it/) is planned for 29 October.

Certainly, having a phone like that would cut down electronic waste in landfills and recycling bins. It would also be fun to be able to configure your phone to your personal needs, simply by changing one or more of its components. And the best thing is, the concept for this is open source. It’s not a phone company doing this in a closed way. It is an idea that you can help make real to phone components manufacturers. It is changing the way things are made by demanding change…

Digital Trends says in an article: “The whole venture is very Maker-inspired and will appeal to Do-It-Yourselfers and hardcore phone geeks. Consumers will be able to buy pre-made phones or assemble their own, blok by blok, using components found in the Blokstore. Here, both large and small hardware makers will get the chance to sell you components ranging from processors and internal storage to cameras and speakers. It’s akin to an app store, not just because of consumer choice but because anyone will be able to make hardware bloks. The entire platform is open source.”

Actually, the idea is larger than just a phone. It is to change how things are made so they can be repaired when needed, don’t have to be thrown away because a part has gone bad.

True, the phone does not exist yet – only the idea does. There is a dedicated site you can go to, to find out how to help to make it a reality." (http://blog.p2pfoundation.net/phonebloks/2013/09/29)

Discussion

Why the PhoneBloks phone will never happen

George Hahn:

"It's a physics issue. Signals in modern devices are extremely high speed; the easiest and cheapest way to combat this is to bring components closer together. For example, the wireless radios, RAM, and processor in all modern phones exist as one chip. They essentially put the CPU and wireless magic on the same silicon die (or on a separate die in the same package) and pop a RAM chip on top ("Package on Package").

It's a communication issue. All of the ICs in a phone don't communicate over a single bus - almost every one ties directly into specific processor pins. This would restrict block size and placement.

If we aim a little lower and try for a modular design, the interconnects needed to ensure signal integrity at high speed are still very expensive. This project would require serious economies of scale to succeed. Each high speed component - CPU, RAM, storage, modem - would need an expensive socket.

Technically, the storage could be put on a socket pretty easily. It's not fast enough to warrant a very expensive socket, but would still add ~$2-5 to the final design. (Keep in mind, that means the consumer would be paying $4-20 extra, just to have the option to upgrade the storage.)

It's an interoperability issue. Going a little further, even if the device could be built in some fashion - there isn't much standardization in this area. I've spent days wrestling with a display peripheral on a processor to get it to interface with a specific display or video input IC - and that's with the benefit of thousands of pages of documentation, a field application engineer on call, and a ~$15000 oscilloscope. The amount of effort in testing and debugging that would be required to ensure the compatibility of each component would be absolutely enormous.

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All of that said, I think the modular idea is excellent and could be done right - maybe not with blocks as described and - optimally - not with electrical signals. I could see it happening with optical interconnects, but we're a few years out from that. On chip optical interconnects are still in research, but there's a lot of money being put into them. Intel has demonstrated some very impressive optical tech that should come to market within the next five years. Eventually, we may be able to tie ICs together through optical traces for extreme high speed communication.

Finally, the stated motivation for this design is to reduce electrical waste. The best way to do that in the short term is to ensure devices are more repairable. An emphasis on user-serviceable batteries would make a significant difference in how long our devices remain useful without adversely impacting their cost or limiting their design.

It's worth noting that the smartphone market is starting to mature. Phones aren't improving by the massive leaps and bounds that they were. The technological differences are trivial - few people notice the difference between a 1GHz and 1.2GHz processor or 1GB and 2GB of RAM. Now, the main thing that separates generations of phones are millimeters of extra display space, grams of saved space, and milliamphours of extra battery life.

One major driver of phone sales right now is software. This is where the problem lies, not in hardware. Users need the right to unlock our phone modems and bootloaders. Unlocking the modems to allow use on different carriers would give used phones a wider market. Unlocking bootloaders would let users completely replace the original software, adding improvements and features to otherwise uninteresting devices.

We definitely have an e-waste problem - and I give this person credit for thinking outside the box - but this isn't the solution we need." (http://www.genericmaker.com/2013/09/why-phonebloks-phone-will-never-happen.html)


Lego Principles don't work on a smartphone

John Brownlee:

"Within your smartphone, data whizzes between components at speeds that are nearly impossible to imagine. Every milimeter's distance between these components comes with a speed penalty attached, which is why smartphones tend to put as many components as possible on a single chip. Consider, for example, the iPhone 5S's A7 processor, which has the iPhone's CPU, graphics and RAM clustered together in a sandwich-like wafer.

Breaking this trinity up to allow for modular upgrades wouldn't just make the device run slower, though. It would make your iPhone consume more power and triple its physical footprint. The result would be a bulkier device, or a device with less room for other components (such as a bigger battery). Even if you could live with that, though, Phonebloks would require expensive sockets so that the CPU, graphics, RAM, storage and modem could communicate with one another at high speed.

...


Simply put, Phonebloks is the opposite of what it appears. Phonebloks makes an appeal to our love of order and simplicity, while actually being significantly more complex. Phonebloks tells us smartphones can cost less, while making each component within them cost more. Phonebloks says that we can upgrade our smartphones without being wasteful, while making it significantly more likely that we'll have to throw away our phones because they're broken." (http://www.fastcodesign.com/3017409/why-lego-design-principles-dont-work-on-smartphones)

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