In the shadow of Google’s Project Ara, Finnish company Circular Devices is making progress on its own modular smartphone, the PuzzlePhone, and will soon reveal details.
For anyone who thinks modular smartphones are a cool concept, the last week has been a downer, with Google postponing tests of Ara until next year.
But Google isn’t the only company working on a modular smartphones.
“I can’t be more specific now, but in September and October we will unveil the way forward in a clear and concrete way,” said Circular Devices spokesman Juan Díaz Díaz via email.
Google and Circular Devices are developing modular smartphones for many of the same reasons: To increase product longevity, let users customize their phones and make them easier to repair.
However, Circular Devices has taken a slightly different, and on the face of it less complicated, approach to building a modular smartphone compared to Project Ara.
The PuzzlePhone concept is made up of three parts: the spine, the brain and the heart.
The spine is the part to which the other two attach and it also includes the screen on the front. The brain contains all the main electronics, including the processor, storage and the rear camera. The last piece, the heart, holds a second set of electronics that can be customized according to user needs, according to PuzzlePhone's website.
The Project Ara endoskeletons have room for a lot more modules. For example, the medium variant has eight modules on the back and two on the front. That gives users more flexibility, but also makes the construction more complicated. But for a small company like Circular Devices, overcoming technical challenges is just one part of the puzzle.
“We have been working hard in the past months on developing a proper business structure and the required partner network. We have also worked to secure the funds needed to proceed with the project,” Díaz said.
Fellow Finnish modular smartphone developer Vsenn called it a day in June because it "couldn't fight the financial pressure" and licensed the technology it had developed to an unnamed company.
Google and Circular Devices deserve a lot of credit for trying to make modular smartphones a reality. The smartphone market has become stale and needs something to shake it up. But getting products out there that then are embraced as more than a niche is a long shot, at best.