We live in a throwaway society, where products often aren't made to last long, and generally aren't easily fixable. Smartphones are a case in point, with the average handset being replaced by its owner within two years. And when that happens, the whole thing is trashed intact and replaced with another, slightly better, model. With the Phonebloks concept, Dave Hakkens plans to change this short-term way of thinking about gadgets.
Dutch designer Hakkens has proposed the Phonebloks concept, which is designed to run counter to the current business model from smartphone manufacturers such as Apple and Samsung. Currently, the average consumer buys a phone, and uses it until it either breaks or is supplanted by a newer model. Then, they either sell it, trade it in, or trash it in favor of buying a brand new handset. Phonebloks tears this notion apart with a simple alternative.
UPGRADE TO NEW ATLAS PLUS
More than 1,500 New Atlas Plus subscribers directly support our journalism, and get access to our premium ad-free site and email newsletter. Join them for just US$19 a year.UPGRADE
Phonebloks is (or is at least imagined to be) a smartphone made up of modular elements. So, your Phonebloks handset would comprise a display panel of your choosing, a battery pack of your choosing, a memory module of your choosing, and other components selected by you. These would be called bloks, and they would be connected to a universal base which ties all of the separate components together. Each blok would be attached to the base via pins, with two screws holding everything in place.
This all means that if one individual component breaks it can be replaced without the need to throw away the whole unit and start again from scratch. Likewise, if you want to upgrade an individual component – your camera or your RAM, for example – then you simply buy the relevant blok and embed it in your handset. To achieve this, Hakkens proposes the Blokstore, a kind of app store for hardware on which you can buy and sell bloks made by your favorite brand.
The overriding factor behind Phonebloks is electronic waste, which is a rapidly growing problem. While Phonebloks wouldn't solve the issue outright (as people would still be disposing of some components) it would certainly help ease the situation. A similar proposal for a recyclable laptop was made a few years ago, but people seem to be resistant to change – or perhaps manufacturers are responsible for the lack of enthusiasm.
Phonebloks is just a concept at present, but it's one that has been met with considerable interest from consumers around the world. Hakkens is currently asking people to support the notion of Phonebloks with a campaign on Thunderclap, and the short video embedded below details the effort.
Unfortunately, consumer demand will not be enough to make Phonebloks a reality, with hardware partners an absolute necessity if this is ever going to move from the drawing board to the real world. Still, it's a great idea that deserves some attention.