Lego-style phone: Motorola already on the case


Yesterday we reported on a man with an idea to make modular mobile phones where replaceable and upgradeable components snapped together like Lego. It turns out Motorola has been working on just such a concept itself.

Dave Hakkens, a Dutch designer, came up with the Phonebloks idea. He suggested a baseboard with an electrical circuit that would send signals to and from components through the metal pins used to hold each part in place. Using a “crowd-speaking” tool, Thunderclap, almost a million social media accounts were scheduled to send out a message promoting the idea today.

It’s likely little coincidence then that Motorola chose this week to reveal Project Ara (pictured), which it describes as an open hardware platform. It works in a very similar way to the Phonebloks concept, with the baseboard referred to as the endoskeleton.

It doesn’t appear to be a case of anyone pilfering ideas. Motorola says it has been working on the project for more than a year, but recently met Hakkens to discuss his work and found they could both bring something to the tables: “We’ve done deep technical work. Dave created a community.”

There doesn’t appear to be any formal partnership, but Motorola says it will be making its work on Project Ara as open as possible and will be “engaging with the Phonebloks community throughout our development process.” The plan is to have a module developer’s kit available in the next few months.

The physical logistics of such a design remain a challenge, with keeping the phone a manageable size and avoiding environmental damage such as dust or moisture both problems to be solved.

However, with a major firm like Motorola not only on board with the idea, but wanting to make it an open ecosystem rather than simply develop a single proprietary handset, it may at least be fair to upgrade the idea from “impossible” to “improbable.”

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