MIX & MATCH

Modular Phones: Add a cam­era or speaker mod­ule and cus­tomise your phone.

Gadgets and Gizmos (India) - - FRONT PAGE - By NIDHI SINGAL

Just when you pur­chase a phone of your choice, a bet­ter one hits the mar­ket. And the quest for the ‘lat­est’ phone con­tin­ues. Yet, not all fea­tures of your smart­phone may sat­isfy your whim. A phone that is su­per smooth to op­er­ate may not have an ad­vanced cam­era suit­able for ad­ven­ture sports or hik­ing – it is far too niche and would add to the cost ex­po­nen­tially. Turns out, you can now just snap on a cam­era mod­ule to your phone and are good to go. Modular phones let you add nu­mer­ous en­hance­ments to your smart­phones, mak­ing buy­ing a new phone al­most ob­so­lete. Here’s every­thing you need to know about them:

À LA MODS

Phonebloks, by Dutch designer Dave Hakkens, pop­u­larised this con­cept three years ago, with the in­ten­tion of re­duc­ing elec­tronic waste by chang­ing the way elec­tron­ics are made. A modular phone lets you up­grade, re­pair and cus­tomise eas­ily ac­cord­ing to your need. Google’s Pro­ject Ara was an­nounced a cou­ple of years ago based on the con­cept of extreme cus­tomi­sa­tion. How­ever, the com­pany is now em­ploy­ing a more re­al­is­tic ap­proach. At the Google I/O 2016, it was re­vealed that the Ara frame will con­tain all the func­tion­al­ity of a smart­phone plus six flex­i­ble slots for easy swap­ping. The frame will con­tain the CPU, GPU, an­ten­nas, sen­sors, bat­tery and dis­play, free­ing up more room for hard­ware in each mod­ule. The frame will be built with durable latches and con­nec­tors to keep mod­ules se­cured. Ara mod­ules fit into any slot with­out hav­ing to re­boot the de­vice. They will be pow­ered by Grey­bus – a soft­ware integrated deep in the An­droid stack – that sup­ports in­stan­ta­neous con­nec­tions, power ef­fi­ciency and data trans­fer rates of up to 11.9 gbps. Google claims that Ara mod­ules are de­signed around stan­dards, al­low­ing them to work with new gen­er­a­tions of frames and new form fac­tors. Still in the works, the con­sumer ver­sion of the Ara phone will be avail­able only in 2017.

LG and Mo­torola have al­ready gone modular. Ear­lier this year, LG launched its lat­est flag­ship modular smart­phone LG G5, glob­ally. The phone is priced at `54,900 in In­dia and the mod­ules have to be pur­chased sep­a­rately. The bot­tom of the G5 pops out with the bat­tery, which can be re­moved and added to the new mod­ules. For in­stance, the cam­era mod­ule of­fers a great level of hard­ware con­trols along with a bet­ter bat­tery. There is also a Bang & Olufsen Hi-Fi au­dio mod­ule, which is a por­ta­ble Hi-Fi dig­i­tal-to-ana­logue con­verter (DAC) and head­phone am­pli­fier for mu­sic lovers. Swap­ping the bot­tom with a new mod­ule and re­boot­ing the phone will add a new func­tion­al­ity to the G5. And be­cause these mod­ules en­hance func­tion­al­ity, they come at a steep cost – a cam­era mod­ule costs `6,500.

Re­cently, Len­ovo-owned Mo­torola also an­nounced its first modular phone, the Moto Z, ex­pected to be launched shortly. This flag­ship smart­phone comes with the lat­est high-end spec­i­fi­ca­tions and Moto Mods – snapon ac­ces­sories that mag­net­i­cally at­tach to the back of the smart­phone with a 16-pin con­nec­tor to trans­form the func­tion­al­ity of the phone. It has an­nounced three com­pleted mods – a built-in bat­tery mod, an au­dio speaker mod from JBL with a built-in kick­stand, and an In­sta-share pro­jec­tor mod that can pro­ject pho­tos and videos up to 70 inches far with 480-pixel res­o­lu­tion. There is also a Power Pack mod that can add ex­tra juice of up to 22 hours us­ing a 2,200-mAh ex­ter­nal bat­tery. Un­like LG G5, these mods work seam­lessly, with­out hav­ing to re­boot the phone.

MODS AT LARGE Cur­rently, both Mo­torola and LG are fo­cus­ing on cam­era con­trols, mu­sic and bat­tery mods. But the pos­si­bil­i­ties are end­less. Moto Z’s pro­jec­tor mod­ule is a great con­cept as it lets you cre­ate a per­sonal home the­atre by just snap­ping a pro­jec­tor mod to the phone. Go­ing for­ward, there could be vari­a­tions in cam­era mod­ules as per the need – a wide-an­gle cam­era mod­ule, tele­photo lens mod­ule or a macro lens mod­ule, ac­com­pa­nied by ad­di­tional bat­tery. Re­plac­ing the phone’s dis­play with an E Ink dis­play for read­ing on a long flight could be a great idea, too. There could be a wire­less charg­ing mod­ule for charg­ing the phone, a panic but­ton mod­ule, kick­stand, voice recorder mod­ule with a mi­cro­phone, stor­ing case mod­ule for mints or medicines, recharge­able so­lar units with bat­tery and more. Mod­ules such as highly sen­si­tive sen­sors for mea­sur­ing heart rate or blood sugar lev­els can be­come big in the health­care space, too. EN­TER THE DE­VEL­OP­ERS Not just smart­phone com­pa­nies, but de­vel­op­ers and ac­ces­sory mak­ers, too, are lever­ag­ing the modular phe­nom­e­non. LG has an­nounced the SDK (soft­ware de­vel­op­ment kit) and HDK (hard­ware de­vel­op­ment kit) for its G5 mod­ules. For Moto Z mods, Len­ovo has an­nounced a de­vel­oper plat­form al­low­ing de­vel­op­ers to build the mod they want. The Len­ovo Cap­i­tal and In­cu­ba­tor Group is also of­fer­ing an eq­uity fund­ing of $1 mil­lion for any in­di­vid­ual or com­pany that comes up with the best Moto Mod pro­to­type by March 31, 2017. The de­vel­oper edi­tion of Pro­ject Ara is slated to be shipped this fall (Septem­ber, most likely). As we buy apps from the Play Store to­day, there will be a mar­ket­place for these mod­ules as well. How­ever, the fact that ev­ery com­pany is work­ing in­de­pen­dently on this could pose a chal­lenge. If modular phones have to get big in the fu­ture, there will have to be a stan­dard in place. Hav­ing dif­fer­ent mod­ules for dif­fer­ent phones could be con­fus­ing. HERE TO STAY? Ac­cord­ing to Ay­mar de Lenc­que­saing, Co- pres­i­dent, MBG, Chair­man & Pres­i­dent, Mo­torola, it is too early to as­cer­tain what kind of per­cent­age modular phones will rep­re­sent in the mar­ket, in fu­ture. But he is op­ti­mistic that the modular phones cat­e­gory is poised to grow. “These phones will pro­vide con­sumers with the flex­i­bil­ity and lux­ury of hav­ing a phone with no com­pro­mise. They will get the per­for­mance of a high-end phone, which can be cou­pled with lim­it­less mod­ules that en­able any func­tion­al­ity. We have just be­gun that jour­ney and only scratched the sur­face.”

The key, he adds, is to make it in­cred­i­bly easy from the user ex­pe­ri­ence stand­point. “The in­dus­try story in gen­eral is that if you have a good recipe for suc­cess, if it answers cus­tomer needs and de­mands, then it starts to ad­dress dif­fer­ent price points as well,” Lenc­que­saing adds.

Host Card Em­u­la­tion Best Smart­phones Un­der 15k

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