In the business world these days there is plenty of talk about the the possibility of creating a 'circular economy' where consumer electronic goods can be continually renewed and revived rather than chucked on the e-waste dung heap. Smart phones are a big part of the e-waste problem, with Americans upgrading about every 22 months.
Last fall, we wrote about Dave Hakkens of the Netherlands introducing Phonebloks, a modular smart phone that is supposed to be a circular product - you update what you need to instead of trashing your current model and dashing to the next.
If imitation is the sincerest way of saying you have a good idea, Hakkens should be proud. While he's working with Motorola to bring the Phonebloks project to life with the first phones (under the Project Ara name) slated to appear in 2014, China-based phone provider ZTE also announced at CES that it is working on a concept modular product.
The Eco-Mobius, as ZTE's smart phone is called, is as sleek, maybe even sleeker, than concept photos of Phonebloks. Thus far, the Eco-Mobius is modular in four areas - the display, the core, the battery, and the memory. While that definitely isn't completely modular, it would help a smart phone buyer keep upgrading pieces without needing to get rid of the phone 'body'. And ZTE is obviously hoping it gets green kudos as the current name of the phone has that "eco" monikker.
Thus far ZTE has said it will make all the modules itself. That's a different direction than Phonebloks is pursuing with its huge social media outreach. Phonebloks plans to work with multiple partners and an open-systems approach, which might be smart, because a smart phone with lots of modules will not be exactly easy to pull off elegantly and efficiently.
One goal with these modular phones (Jolla's The Other Half from Finland is another one soon available) is to reduce e-waste and start to control that spiraling 'new model' mentality that has accelerated with Apple's 'i' products.
While consumers seems to love this 'phones like Legos' concept - Phonebloks has garnered more than 350,000 Facebook likes in its few short months of existence - the reality (especially in pricing) might be a bit hard to achieve, some pundits warn.
In addition, Google-owned Motorola's idea of modularity might not turn out to be as green as this planet needs. For example, if every Phoneblok module has its own theft-proof plastic and other display packaging, well, 'eco' is out the window.
For now, modularity is an idea that has a lot of support, and soon, some testable products.