What happens to the technology media industry the day after Apple releases quarterly financials? Tech writers take the day off because there’s really nothing left for them to write about for a day. Or, those that get paid by the word try to dream up something so totally ridiculous that it’s like April Fool’s Day in July.
Jo Best took the latter course, indicating how she gets paid by ZDNet, and asked the question that has been on our mind for a couple of years, ‘Will Modular Handsets* Save The Smartphone Market, Or Destroy It?‘
First of all, why does the smartphone market need to be saved? Is it in danger? Well, with Apple accounting for somewhere near 90-percent of the entire industry’s profits, you would think a few more companies would have kicked the bucket or bought the farm, but second tier smartphone manufacturers are still in business, and even though they lose money on every phone sold, they hope to make it up in volume.
No, the smartphone market is not in need of a savior. The market is somewhat saturated in places, but that’s good because those companies that cannot make a profit should go out of business anyway. Soon. Please?
Second of all, what’s a modular smartphone, anyway?
It’s a Google thing born from the idea that smartphone users would prefer to own a device that works much like Lego bricks. Buy all the pieces you want, snap them together, ipso facto and alakazam– you end up with a personalized smartphone. This modular approach to hardware came from Google’s then Motorola division and it seems to have become all the rage among technology websites but doesn’t seem to have caught on among actual smartphone buyers and users. Then again, the idea came from Motorola and we all know how well that turned out for Google.
The idea behind a modular approach to a smartphone seems plausible. Buy the pieces you want, upgrade only the pieces that need to be upgraded or replaced somewhere down the road. That seems like a more personalized approach to customizing your smartphone, a more efficient use of resources, an ecologically sound way to dispose of technology in little pieces rather than a big piece every few years, and yet another way to tell friends, neighbors, and co-workers that you hug trees on your days off.
Want to upgrade your smartphone’s camera? Pop off the old one, pop on a new one. Need a higher resolution screen? Or, a faster CPU? Snap, snap, snap. Done.
Roberta Cozza, research director at Google.
From a vendor perspective, it’s creating differentiation in a market where everything looks the same
Translation: Everything we do looks like something Apple did already, except this farfetched idea, but they’re paying me anyway.
Consequently, the type of modularity in vogue at Google and LG is about having just enough modularity to encourage consumers to buy lots more kit.
Translation: We need to find another way to differentiate our smartphones from Apple’s iPhone, and we need to figure out a way to make money doing it.
Then there’s a tip of the hat and wag of the finger for Juan Díaz Díaz (a name so nice you get to say it twice):
There was no option to just fix this simple and cheap part, you have to buy a full phone. That definitely makes no sense, it’s like having to change the full car because your windshield is broken or the tyres are worn… Our main goal is to make the device as easy to upgrade and fix in hardware as it is in software, and it’s making everything sustainable by design.
But I thought they simply wanted to make more money.
OK, let’s be clear. A smartphone is not a car. Cars have parts that can be repaired or replaced. Hmmm. So do smartphones, but since there are fewer parts, there are fewer repair or replacement options. That’s the nature of electronics.
Díaz Díaz again:
The people that are talking a lot about modular devices are people from IT and technology, mostly because the devices that have been shown are for that market… Most people who are interested in the Puzzlephone are part of the technical universe, but not exclusively.
Alright, enough of the nonsense. Modular phones are neither smartphone market saviors or killers. A modular smartphone is an interesting idea that becomes mostly a waste of time.
*Handsets: technology writer talk for smartphone.