The concept of modular smartphones is a fascinating one, no doubt. A modular smartphone is a smartphone in which you can switch out one part for another to add the functionality you need. An example: you can slide out the back battery module and replace it with another module with a smaller battery and say stereo speakers. The ability to morph your phone according to your needs per time has been hailed as brilliant, and I agree that it is.
PhoneBloks, Fonkraft, Project Ara – All Gone
Fairphone is a social enterprise. That means profit isn’t their primary goal. Their two modular smartphones, Fairphone 1 and Fairphone 2, have sold a total of 100,000 units. By Fairphone’s targets, that is a huge success. Still, you will agree that 100,000 units of two models is not great sales. Commercially, Fairphone would never make it.
This is LG’s first modular smartphone and the first modular phone from a big brand. The slide-out battery can be swapped with one of the available modules. These optional modules for the G5 are quite limited. They include an audio module and a camera grip. LG reported a 3rd quarter 2016 $381 million loss due to very poor sales of the G5.
Moto Z family
Google may have given up on Project Ara (which was really an initiative of Motorola), but Lenovo has not let the idea rest. With Motorola now tucked under its wings, Lenovo is pushing modular smartphones with the Moto brand. The Moto Z, Moto Z Force, and Moto Z Play are recently released as modular smartphones. It is very doubtful that even the Moto Z range of phones will sell in huge numbers.
Why Modular Smartphones Are Not Commercial Successes Yet
- The Enthusiast Factor: the average consumer does not enjoy tweaking and tinkering with their gadgets. They want a complete package that works out of the box. It is just too much work for most people to detach a battery and replace it with an enhanced camera module. Modular smartphones means tinkering. As such, they are most suited to enthusiasts and not the general market.
- The Cost Factor: Modular smartphones are not only expensive, the optional modules are too. Asking consumers to spend $500 on a phone and then $200 on each optional module is a stretch.
For now, asking mobile consumers to embrace modular smartphones is like asking the average motorist to buy a car he has to customise to his needs per time. That goes against the popular mindset. Most people on planet earth just want to buy an item that meets their needs out of the box without any continual tinkering. Till that changes (and perhaps till modules do not cost an arm and a leg), modular smartphones will remain a niche affair.