After years of discontent from mobile phone consumers there now shines a beacon of hope. Tinkerer and entrepreneur Dave Hakkens, founder of Phonebloks, released his idea for a revolutionary new product the week after Apple released its new iPhone 5s and 5c. Hakkens’ move could not have come at a better time, for the market is ripe for a new mobile phone solution.
Currently a resident of the Netherlands, Mr. Hakkens has devised a product with the potential to take down the tech giants who year-after-year throw their labs’ offerings into the ring of mobile technology. The product: a glorious combination of Legos and smartphones poised to change the tech market as we know it.
As you are well aware, most phones peter out after a short period of time and, as Dave Hakkens informs us, usually “it is only one part [of the phone] that killed it.” The beauty of the Phonebloks design is that a single element failure in the phone — such as a hard drive crash or worn out touch pad — will not cripple the phone. Rather, Hakkens’ “sum-of-parts” design affords the consumer the option to replace parts of the phone at will.
This also affords the consumer the option to fully customize the phone to his needs. For instance, if your phone often doubles as a camera, you can swap out parts for better graphics capabilities, more RAM and a better quality camera; or, if you spend most of your time operating in the cloud and require very little local storage, you can ditch the phone’s hard drive space for a bigger battery. In short, Phonebloks is an ultra-customizable smart phone, built from the ground-up to fit each user’s specific needs, that can be fixed or upgraded by replacing individual parts (“bloks”).
As revolutionary as Hakken’s idea is, it could remain just that: a very meticulously thought-out idea. Unfortunately, the economics do not bode well for the success of the phone. Martin Cooper, the inventor of the cell phone, stated that although the idea is “well-meaning, the main reason that the Phoneblok will not hit the market is it will cost more, be bigger and heavier, and be less reliable [than other phones].”
Additionally, it is not clear who would develop the operating system and software for the Phoneblok. Mr. Hakkens is calling for open source collaboration on the software and design of phone’s internal workings, but so far no substantive progress has been shown. As Apple has shown, these crucial features can truly set a device apart from competition.
Despite potential setbacks, there has been an explosion of support for Phonebloks from people across the world. Within three days of its public debut, the introductory video for Phonebloks garnered over 4.5 million hits on YouTube, and the Phonebloks website amassed over 86,000 registered supporters.
Several weeks in, the site now boasts over 890,000 supporters and is still gaining support, although more slowly that in the nine days after its release.
Phonebloks’ future is still murky, as so many elements of the design and economics have yet to be resolved, but the idea is nevertheless impressive. More impressive yet is the rate at which the campaign surged through the internet to amass a following. Phonebloks provides one possible window into the future of entrepreneurial capitalism — a future where rapidly-evolving, ground-up products are geared minutely to the preferences of the consumer.
THE EDITORS: Truly power to the People.
—Chris Donaldson is a senior studying physics and computer science
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