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BW Businessworld

Now, Phones In Pieces

Modular smartphone’s are here, with LG and Motorola bringing in add-ons for boosted or new functions

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Phonemakers have had it with trying so hard to make everything so small it fits within the acceptable size of a smartphone. After all, how much can you squeeze a thing before it bumps into its limitations? The answer? Modular phones, first dreamt up by Google and Motorola as part of Project Ara in which phones are meant to be a collection of snap-on modules, obviously customisable to the degree the owner wants.

While Project Ara was in the works, LG jumped the gun and came up with a sort-of modular phone, the LG G5. The bottom segment of this flagship device can open up when you press a release button and allow a bunch of modules or “Friends” to add functionality to the device. You can get a camera grip, battery booster, a B&O Hi-Fi DAC, a 360-degree camera, 360-degree VR and more.

But here’s the problem: how easily available will these Friends be in the country and how much will they cost? Some time ago, Lenovo came up with a beautiful phone called the Vibe X2 which had a speaker, battery and kickstand module. But these were difficult to come by. In much the same way, Motorola talks customisation in the US but brings little of it to India. The Moto Maker isn’t in India except for a few changeable back cases.

What’s more, will users have patience with features being optional extras to the device? Users have become accustomed to expecting their phones to get better and better. More high-end cameras, longer battery life, etc. To have the most wanted features turn into optional extras may not be a guaranteed hit.

I’m a phone photography enthusiast but I quickly tired of some lens attachments I’d bought eagerly, giving them away to a friend quite happily after a mere few weeks. More than anything else, they were a nuisance to carry around and too fiddly to use regularly. The idea of snap-on modules is attractive on the face of it, but will they be practical?

Well, people are about to find out with the coming of the Moto Z, a just-launched device which has accessories called “Mods”. These Mods snap on with magnets — which at least makes them much less fiddly — and they add style and functions to the smartphone. They snap on to the back of the phone and as such, will be much quicker to change on the fly. And practical or not, they do sound very exciting.

One of the Mods, for instance, is an Instashare Projector. It gives a big bright 70-inch picture on the wall and you can quickly use it for a presentation, a movie, or sharing photos with others. A kickstand ensures you don’t have to prop up your phone some other way and can go from zero to show in no time. Another Mod for the Moto Z, Incipio, adds 22 hours of battery life. Then, like the Vibe X2, the Moto Z can connect to a JBL speaker Mod for stereo sound. These Mods don’t even need pairing but are ready to go, making them easier than ever to use.

Only when the Moto Z is brought into India — if it is — and the modules are actually available in enough quantity, will one be able to assess how many of these Mods will users want to buy for each phone and how convenient it will be to carry them around because most of these pieces are after all coming with functionality you’ll want when you’re out and about.

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magazine 11 July 2016 smartphone motorola lg JBL speaker