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  • ruthan - Wednesday, February 26, 2014 - link

    I could be finaly "PC" (modular) phone, not only x86 phone (PC SW compatible in future though universal OS - Windows, Android, Linux). And first realy upgradable phone.. I would like to see this at successfull project, but i dont believe it too much.
    Because there are big constraints:
    - good case
    - very easy pc like montage, moduls will be very small, will be need some magnifying glass? // Because it is show stopper.
    - enought HW manufactors support
    - would be display upgradable?
  • SleepyFE - Wednesday, February 26, 2014 - link

    Flashing is a problem (or rather would be a problem). To get the driver for any new module you would have to make the image yourself and then flash it. Too much for non tech savy. To get a universal os you would fist need BIOS and then boot an installer from USB, then look for drivers and so on. The phone would have to become a full PC with a cellular module. Even if (when) that happenes, the non modular phones would last longer on a single charge (unless you added a huuuuuuuuuuge battery module) and you can fit a better processor when you know how well it will be cooled (another module might cover the CPU module so it could overheat).

    The modules would probably be plugged on to the back of the display since it's the biggest piece and the battery on the other side. So if you would have to take everything of and put it on to another screen.
  • dark4181 - Wednesday, February 26, 2014 - link

    Unless Google develops an iTunes analog that will auto-detect your hardware and grab the appropriate drivers for you, and then rolls and flashes the ROM. The rub here is going to be hardware/software integration and efficiency, and the fact that mobile hardware is only just getting to where PC hardware was when the DIY PC movement really started to gain steam. I'd say we have another 1-2 years before we're fully there, and maybe another 5-7 years before we have the kind of power in a mobile SoC that we have in today's PC systems. At that point, I think a lot of traditional PC component vendors will begin developing their own modulare mobile hardware components and drivers. So I figure 10 years before modular phones become "mainstream"; if indeed they ever do. Reply
  • dark4181 - Wednesday, February 26, 2014 - link

    Oh, and even if Google doesn't develop an iTunes analogue, I'm sure somebody will at some point. Reply
  • Morawka - Thursday, February 27, 2014 - link

    google does not need a itunes analog, just let us do it with the PC. iTunes is needed because apple is closed doors (walled garden) and they dont want you messing with stuff.

    Microsoft and Linux OS's simply need a API or plug for installing hardware and software drivers. Everything else can be done via USB
  • darkcrayon - Wednesday, February 26, 2014 - link

    Keep in mind we never even got adoption of "mass market" modular laptops, much less modular devices as small as smartphones. This might be interesting research, but I can't see it gaining adoption beyond the nerds. If we're waiting 5-7 years before this is viable, imagine how much more advanced the totally integrated designs could get within the same time period. Reply
  • Mr. Eco - Thursday, February 27, 2014 - link

    Exactly. Reply
  • nerd1 - Thursday, February 27, 2014 - link

    Modular desktop make sense because there are powerful aftermarket components available, and you can put them together to make a much more powerful machine (at some cost, of course)

    On the other hand, there simply does not exist any better component option at all - all the latest and best are already in the flagship smartphones. Then why bother?
  • Friendly0Fire - Thursday, February 27, 2014 - link

    Also keep in mind that any connector lengthens the path to the rest of the phone, which hinders performance, raises weight and costs, etc.

    I like the idea, but I'm not sure how feasible it is in practice outside of peripherals (camera, gps, even screen could be swapped, but the SoC is likely to be monolithic).
  • MrSpadge - Saturday, March 01, 2014 - link

    It could be great for people who do not want the latest and greatest. You could tune your device for whatever is worth the most to you: camera, long battery life, cost etc.
    I wouln't bet on this ever taking off, but it surely appeals to some.
  • fteoath64 - Thursday, February 27, 2014 - link

    Believe it or not a laptop has far more constraints due to weight and size of components, making the chassis/casing design very challenging and expensive. It is already a "no starter". In the phone scenario, due to lightweight parts and small size, a thin and strong aluminium backplate even with slots covered by plastic covers (ie thin and strong coloured) would be cheap or easy to make.
    Defining the connector standard is going to take some effort due to number of pins needed unless some sort of system-serial-bus standard has been defined for inter-connecting modules. First order would be to define what a module is and its interfaces. Then the connectors needed, either one sided, two sided or three sided. That is on one plane. You have to consider stacking modules and the last module being the screen would stack on top!. Some modules would have buttons/slots/plugs and need to be on specific sides of the mainboard.
    Yes, it is all doable but will end up with a thicker phone with varying functionality. There would be a need to have silver-coated shielding tape to cover the necessary area before the final module being either screen or back plate slides into place. Then we shall have people putting this on a rubberised case to make it even bulkier!. Would we end up with a design similar to the older Motorola brick phone where the owner has 3 MicroSd slots, 2 SDcard slots, 6 GB RAM and a tiny screen but a huge 20MP dualcam module doing 4k on 2 streams while LTE 150mbps to a server!!!. His phone rig!.
  • nerd1 - Friday, February 28, 2014 - link

    I wonder exactly WHAT people want from modular phone.

    Bunch of memory slots? We already have 128gb micro sd card, and there are bunch of wifi-enabled portable HDDs as well. 6GB ram? I bet that will be a standard when 64bit OSs are ready (Many phones are already equipped with 3GB of ram). 20MP camera module? Sony and nokia already have one and sammy will catch up soon.

    Whatever you want from modular phone, it will be materialized AT THE SAME TIME from major brands anyway.
  • 1Angelreloaded - Friday, February 28, 2014 - link

    ok where to begin, unfortunately you are highly wrong on this one, the Clevo is a great example of why modular laptops work well, but not exactly within the truly modular idea frame, the modular components are in the different vendors that we see selling them in different fashions, because of the way Laptops are setup Modular at this point took a huge leap forward when most of the manufacturers stopped soldering down the heatpipes to the motherboard and allowed for easy CPU exchanges, the problem isn't the fact laptops aren't modular the fact is no one makes the parts for reasonable consumption and competitive prices. Reply
  • ABR - Thursday, February 27, 2014 - link

    I assume they've considered and solved most of the software-level integration problems mentioned. Modules all come with factory firmware capable of bootstrapping (into) the device network, there's infrastructure and support for OTA upgrades, etc.. The part I'm having trouble with is the "why". I think this is something more about how phones are manufactured, rather than being directed at home tinkerers. Although the componentization of PCs did allow people to build them at home, the real story was the explosion of manufacturers and the resulting implosion of price once it became a game of Lego bricks. Phones can already be pretty low-priced, but that's only because massive volumes at the top tier manufacturers absorb the firmware development and hardware integration costs. This type of move would lower that bar substantially. Reply
  • SleepyFE - Wednesday, February 26, 2014 - link

    It's gonna be interesting to follow progress on this. We'll see how far they get, but i'm afraid it won't enter the market. Reply
  • kpb321 - Thursday, February 27, 2014 - link

    There is an inherent trade off to trying to do a modular phone. Your modular phone will end up either having worse battery life or being physically larger. Being modular requires extra space to surround the module, the "frame" to connect it all to and route things around, etc. This means less space for a battery or a bigger device.

    On top of that I don't see how you could ever avoid the fact that high speed buses that have to travel further and work through some sort of connector are going to require higher power than the equivalent bus on a PCB.

    Not to mention the difficulty of properly optimizing everything so that things things can properly power down to their lowest power modes as much as possible.
  • Lonyo - Thursday, February 27, 2014 - link

    That was one of the issues with x86 tablets, per an AT article. Intel's power use was high because everything wasn't fully optimised, but hardware + software + drivers all need to work together to optimise power use. A lot more difficult to get when you increase flexibility in hardware configurations.
  • nerd1 - Thursday, February 27, 2014 - link

    This is downright silly. Current flagship phones already have best of everything, so there is absolutely no need for customization at all. Also they are heavily tested and customized - modular version will be way heavier, way less reliable, way costly.

    Then why do we need modular phone at all? We don't even have any 'modular' ultrabooks.
  • lada - Thursday, February 27, 2014 - link

    Best camera? No, they have tiny ones. Best HW keyboards? No, not even a few buttons. External storage - eSATA ports? No. There's plenty of hardware that COULD interface to a mobile, if there was an interface. For specialised use, the smartphone can work as a voltmeter, wired ethernet tester, an oscilloscope, whatever - just the proper interface is needed. What about connecting a terabyte sata SSD to a phone to record something? What about enthusiast hi-fi audio sampling, external mics? What smartphone can do this?

    The trend is commoditisation, and for volume manufacturers that means lowering the bar, dropping rare features just to be able to sell it in a mass market.

    Does any current smartphone a cap over the camera? Hardware mutable MIC?

    I'm looking forward to SDR - software defined radio on a smartphone. That could make a (otherwise versatile) platform support any wireless protocol out there just with a program/firmware/FPGA update. Imagine the phone being able to decode FM radio, transmit it, support Global Maritime Distress and Safety System, HAM radio, software GPS, anything wireless, even wired. I2C debugger?

    I'm hoping this would be a mobile version of a Raspberry Pi - extensible to just about any peripheral. Personally, I'd like to see those Nokia's 44Mpixel CCDs supported. This if for geeks.
  • p1esk - Thursday, February 27, 2014 - link

    I think for what you're describing you would be better off just building everything yourself. Reply
  • nerd1 - Thursday, February 27, 2014 - link

    There already are enough wifi camera modules that can be used with smartphones, bunch of bluetooth keyboards, USB otg cables and micro sd slots. Samsung even provides micro usb to ethernet adapter for their pro tablet lineups.

    So everything you mentioned can be implemented as add-on accessories, and they already are.
  • ruthan - Thursday, February 27, 2014 - link

    Modular laptops, arent here because anybody doesnt offer them. Because better business is sell you whole new laptop very year. But there lots of users whose would like to upgrade CPU or GPU in laptop.

    Yeah, closed phone would be probably everytime more effective for same money, if you will invest big budget, but after year or two, upgrade of CPU / GPU / Memory old modular phone could be better deal, in longterm.

    I hope that also mainboard would be modular and changeable.
  • Conficio - Thursday, February 27, 2014 - link

    It just struck me that the same concept could work nicely for automotive systems, where you have components in close proximity but not within a few inches.
    Like have a source of power, a screen in the console (or dashboard or heads up), mics and speakers in the right places, antennae in the optimal places, buttons on the steering wheel, ...
    And ideally you could replace those components with improved one's over the long life span of the car.
  • ritabhatt - Thursday, February 27, 2014 - link

    Which model is this Reply
  • chizow - Friday, February 28, 2014 - link

    Dear Google,

    Don't bother.

  • Daller - Friday, February 28, 2014 - link

    All this modularity is stealing away precious space that could be used for a bigger battery. The one in the picture is a 3.7V 110mAh... pathetic!

    Unless they somehow solve this battery issue I believe these handsets will be too cumbersome for anyone to want to handle.
  • whatsa - Friday, February 28, 2014 - link

    I see the idea but for a phone its too much...
    1or2 add ons maybe but thats it.

    This is what Jolla has done with the smart cover(TOH) and i2c so the functionality can be added in a back cover. Really much more than one add-on is just a toy and probably not you daily driver.
  • anirudhgargi - Monday, March 03, 2014 - link

    Adding a UNiPro over M-Phy for each module will deinately increase the cost as the IP for MPHY is very complex and i guess not cheap. Unless vendors come toagther and share stuff and reduce cost. At the same time i see advantage i see is inter-module interface can be easliy standarized , also M-PHY + Uni Pro has already proved to be very very fast and low latency in tune of hunderd nano sec.

    As for the concens of power, definnatly more power needed when signal travel across chips . Plus more interference(huge pain !).
    Having a primary + secondary battery can be a quick solution, much like a external battery pack.
    keeping display with some battery at it back.

    For concerns of flashing, already many devices support flashless boot. Like modems chips in mobiles. Binary is loaded with every boot from main Processor with some falsh storage.
    Similarly here each module can have support basic Boot-Rom with primary interface drivers to load binary in their RAM and work on. Or perhaps shared RAM across chips can be a novel idea. M-PHY over MIPI LLi has known to demonstrate such feats with latency less than of 90ns. No need to send binary or all, all module work in their own partitions of RAM !

    Form Factor will be biggest challenge. Making it compact will be a later target. Even if the 'mobilty' is hampered, it can be great soltion.

    And finally one can upgrade beyond 'storage' and 'software' on phones !

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