What is the problem with modular phones?
For the last few decades, our phones were just one solid piece and often the only modular part was the removable battery. However, over the last few years, some companies such as Google or even some start ups came with this idea of “modular phones”. The idea was that you will just need to buy the body of the phone first and then you will be able to customize it as much as you wanted. For example, you would be able to put a larger battery but less powerful speaker. This would also mean that as long as companies make compatible accessories and hardware parts, you would keep your phone new which was eventually bad for the phone makers. However, in 2016, we don’t have any modular phones like that, yet there are companies such as LG or Lenovo which already have modular phones, sort of.
Even though neither LG G5 or Moto Z is as modular as past projects like Project Ara, these phones are still more modular than the other ones in the market. However, again neither of them made LG or Lenovo happy because there are huge problems in modular phones that needs to be solved if companies want to earn money from modularity.
First problem is the question of how modular are G5 and Moto Z. With G5, you can take out the bottom part and put different accessories but with Moto Z, you cannot remove anything. Nevertheless, you can stick accessories to the back thanks to the magnets. I don’t think this is what we imaged as a modular phone but that is not the only problem though.
The second problem is being compatible. For example, LG G6 and the successor of Moto Z should have the same modular parts as the G5 and Moto Z but it limits those companies. Even though it is enough for Motorola to keep the size of the phone same as well as to have same connectors on the back, LG needs to have the same bottom part on G6. However, in any case, they are limited. While consumers want new features and new design, now both LG and Lenovo needs to keep the same (or let’s say mostly similar design) with the next generation or even with the next generations.
Yet, being compatible is not only about next generations of the same series but also with each other. For example, there should a be Standart for the modular parts. Just think about this ability to use the modular parts with any phone. That will make modular phones more popular; not the way that companies doing right now.
The third problem is the price. You spend a lot of money for LG G5 (which is not worth it anyway) and little less for Moto Z and yet you need to spend hundreds of dollars for each module. For example, Bang & Olufsen’s Hi&Fi module costs $195 and yet you don’t know if you can use it with LG G6 or G7. With Motorola, this situation is not different either. The cheapest modular part (expect the $20 snap-on back covers) is the $60 battery pack or the speaker that costs $80. However, not every accessorie for Moto Z is under $100. If you want to buy a projector for your Moto Z, then you will need to spend about $300 with which you can buy a good phone or even a PS4. In other words, modular accessories are way too expensive.
The other question is that do you really need modular accessories. For example, you can spend $80 (or $200 if you are talking about LG) to buy a nice Bluetooth portable speaker. Besides of having a better sound quality, that Bluetooth speaker will work with any device unlike the speaker add on on Moto Z or Hi-fi module on LG G5. The same thing also applies for the projector add-on on Moto Z. With 300$,you can buy a small Bluetooth projector and again, the quality of the separate device would be better than the modular part.
To sum up, there are obstacles in the world of modularity and besides, companies do not have a good vision.