Why modular phones will never make it to mass market

The concept of modular mobile phones have been around for a while now. The purpose of a modular phone is to give customers the option to upgrade certain components such as camera, battery, speakers etc. It also reduces electronic waste, lowers repair costs and reduces the need to buy a whole new phone. While in theory it sounds perfect, the reality is far from it.

There has been many modular phones in the work, most notably the concept Project Ara by Google, although this was scrapped before it even made it to production. There are other less modular / more restricted concepts in the form of Moto Z, LG G5 and Fairphone. These phones did make it to the market, but neither sold in mass quantities. LG G5 recieved very mixed reviews despite offering a removable battery as a module.


Concept design of Project Ara by Google

So why haven’t modular phones made it to the mass market?

There are many reasons that have been noted for the lack of mass market exposure. Durability of connection point of the modules to the phone, and whether these would develop problems over time. Another problem is that many of the modular concepts are bulkier than modern wafer thin phones.

The high cost of modules – Motorola and LG released several modules for their phones, but the price point were well over the $100 mark. If you buy a phone for more than $500-600, you would rightly be reluctant to spend more on it while getting minimal additional benefits.

But perhaps the biggest reason is that people do not like too many options/customisation, or are too busy to think about it. The majority of the general public that want the latest technology/specifications pay flagship prices to ensure it has everything they need. They do not want to then go and purchase parts, and modify their phones. When you can get the best camera, processor, battery come in a phone that is water and dust resistant and has a small footprint, there is no need to upgrade in the form of modules. There are many flagships from many companies emphasising on certain aspects, that customers are spoilt of choice without needing to resort to modules.

It is the same case with computers and cars. Majority of people would buy a laptop or desktop with the specifications for their needs, and never think about upgrading the RAM, hard drive, or processor. They just want it to work the way they want right out of the box. In fact most modern laptops are designed such that post-purchase upgradability is not even possible, and yet sell more than bulkier upgradable laptops.

In my opinion modular phones will, unfortunately, never be more than a niche product simply for this reason.

What do you think about modular phones, and would you purchase one?


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