Many of the world’s most popular inventions and innovations have capitalized on our universal love of multifunctional objects and devices. Today, we have futons that transform from sofas into beds; printers that also scan, copy, and fax; washing machines that can clean two loads of laundry simultaneously; and phones that do, well, pretty much everything.
But there are few devices that exemplify the benefits – and limitations – of multifunctional devices quite like the multi-tool pocket knife. Pocket knives aren’t a new invention – they’ve been around for millennia – but in recent centuries, they’ve transformed into complex multi-use devices. No longer just foldable blades, multi-tool pocket knives incorporate features like bottle openers, scissors, tweezers, screwdrivers, can openers, and even USB flash drives. And this is where we encounter the pocket knife dilemma: while pocket knives can do many things, they don’t really excel at any of the things they do.
In a similar way, smartphones also suffer from the pocket knife dilemma: yes, your phone might have a camera, but you still won’t see a professional photographer using his mobile device at a photo shoot. Sure, your phone functions as a small computer, but it won’t enjoy the same battery life as a laptop. And yes, the image quality on your mobile screen is clear and crisp, but it’s still not an ideal medium for watching movies or TV shows.
For the multi-tool pocket knife, the solution to this dilemma has been to make it more modular: instead of trying to cram every conceivable feature onto the device, newer multi-tool pocket knives allow consumers to choose which tools they need, swapping individual tools and modules in and out of the frame. With this approach, the manufacturers can focus on delivering higher-quality tools, since they’re no longer trying to squeeze all the modules onto the device.
But what about for smartphones? Sure, we have myriad customization options for the software and applications on our mobile devices, but what about the tools themselves? Typically, when you purchase a phone, you’re buying a complete package – one piece of equipment with countless functions. And when you want to upgrade your hardware, your only option is to buy an entirely new phone. But what if you could choose to upgrade specific elements of the device itself? Can smartphone hardware go modular, too?
Thanks to trailblazers like LG Electronics, it already has. At this year’s Mobile World Congress, LG debuted the world’s first-ever modular smartphone and the company’s new flagship mobile device, the LG G5.
Through its slide-out battery compartment, the G5 can be hooked up to a number of specialized companion devices, called the LG Friends, which allow users to personalize their mobile device according to their own preferences. If you’re a photography enthusiast, for example, the LG CAM Plus module transforms your mobile into a digital camera, with a comfortable grip and convenient controls. Likewise, the LG 360 CAM can be attached to capture 360-degree images and videos with exceptional clarity and quality. The LG Friends lineup includes everything from secondary, long-life batteries (to keep you charged and connected while you’re on the go) to wireless headsets and audio players, to the LG 360 VR, a virtual reality headset that will transform your smartphone experience into something truly immersive. In a matter of seconds, modules and components can be switched in and out of the G5, allowing you to create a tailored smartphone that excels in the areas that really matter to you.
But the modular smartphone concept is revolutionary for more than its ability to let users customize their devices. If the future of mobile technology is, indeed, heading toward a modular direction, it means that users soon won’t have to worry about replacing their entire device every year or two, and the longevity of our mobiles will increase. Instead of treating smartphones like shoes, changing them out every season, we can start treating them more like long-term investments, such as cars or houses. After all, you wouldn’t buy a new house just because you want a different color scheme for your living room: you’d simply paint the walls and change out the furniture. And you wouldn’t buy a new car just because you want better speakers: you’d have new speakers installed in your existing vehicle. Why shouldn’t your smartphone work the same way?