Phonebloks mobile phone concept
by Dave Hakkens


Dutch Design Week 2013: Design Academy Eindhoven graduate Dave Hakkens' concept for a mobile phone made of detachable blocks has gone viral, attracting over 16 million views on YouTube and garnering almost a million supporters online (+ movie + interview).

Phonebloks by Dave Hakkens

"I put the video online and in the first 24 hours I had like one million views on YouTube," Hakkens told Dezeen. "I got a lot of responses to it."

Phonebloks by Dave Hakkens

Dutch designer Hakkens, who graduated from Design Academy Eindhoven this summer, presented his Phonebloks concept at the academy's graduation show in Eindhoven today at the start of Dutch Design Week.

Phonebloks by Dave Hakkens

Phonebloks is a concept for a phone made of swappable components that fit together like Lego, with each component containing a different function. This means that components can be replaced or upgraded without having to throw away the phone.

Phonebloks by Dave Hakkens

"Usually a phone is integrated into one solid block and if one part gets broken you have to throw away the entire phone," said Hakkens. "But this has different components, so if  your battery is broken you can replace the the battery or if you need a better camera you only upgrade the camera component. So you don't throw away the entire phone; you keep the good stuff."

Last month Hakkens uploaded a video explaining the concept to YouTube, where it went viral and has now been watched over 16 million times.

He then put the idea on "crowdspeaking" site Thunderclap, where instead of donating money, supporters donate their social reach. He now has over 900,000 supporters on the site, and when the campaign closes on 29 October a message about Phonebloks will automatically be sent to each supporters' social media contacts, giving Hakkens a total audience of over 360 million people.

Hakkens said: "That's the whole point of this idea; to generate lots of buzz so companies see there's a huge market and realise they really need to make a phone like this."

The Phonebloks concept features electronic blocks that snap onto a base board, which links all the components. Two small screws lock everything together. Users can choose components from their favourite brands or make their own modules.

"You can customise your phone, replacing the storage block with a larger battery if you store everything in the cloud, or replace advanced components you don't need with basic blocks like a bigger speaker," says the video explaining the concept.

Hakkens hopes Phonebloks will lead to fewer phones being thrown away, thereby reducing waste. "Electronic devices are not designed to last," the video says. "This makes electronic waste one of the fastest-growing waste streams in the world and our phone is one of the biggest causes."

Here's the interview conducted at Design Academy Eindhoven today:

Marcus Fairs: What is Phonebloks?

Dave Hakkens: Phonebloks is a phone made to upgrade and repair; it's a phone worth keeping. Usually we throw it away after a couple of years. But this one is made to last.

Marcus Fairs: How is it made to last?

Dave Hakkens: Usually a phone is integrated into one solid block, and if one part gets broken you have to throw away the entire phone. But this has different components, so if for instance only your battery is broken you can replace the the battery, or if it's slow after a couple of years you can change just the speed component. If you need a better camera you only upgrade the camera component. So in this way you don't throw away the entire phone; you keep the good stuff.

Marcus Fairs: Tell us how it went viral.

Dave Hakkens: The idea with this whole project is I'm just one guy at the Design Academy; I can't make this phone by myself. I can go to a lot of companies and pitch, ask them if they'd like to make my phone, but I thought I'd do it the other way around; so I gathered a lot of people who told companies they really wanted this phone. So I put this video online and in the first 24 hours I had like one million views on YouTube. I also gathered supporters so currently I have 900,000 supporters, and they all just wanted this phone. So now I have all this attention and I get a lot of nice emails from companies who want to work on this.

Marcus Fairs: How did you spread the message?

Dave Hakkens: You have this site called Thunderclap. On Thunderclap instead of crowdfunding you crowdspeak people; people don't donate money but instead they donate their friends and family. You say you're interested in a project and want to support it, so you donate your friends - their Facebook followers and Twitter followers - and on the 29 October automatically a message is sent out by those people saying "We want Phonebloks". That spreads to all their friends and families. So currently I have like 900,000 supporters but on 29 October we will reach 300 million people. So that's the whole point of this idea; to generate lots of buzz so companies see there's a huge market and realise they really need to make a phone like this.

Marcus Fairs: What is the next step?

Dave Hakkens: My idea succeeded from day one; I got a lot of responses to it. I've got a lot of people interested in developing it: engineers, technicians and companies. So right now I'm thinking what would be a logical next step. Crowdsource it on the internet? Work together with a company? That's what I'm thinking about now; how to realise the phone the best way.

  • hateraid

    What happened to the ‘reducing e-waste’ mission? Could it be that the designer realized his idea would actually create more waste rather than a reduction?

  • notto

    Interesting, When I have seen this concept from my point of view as a designer, my first thought was “another one.” But apparently this is the first of the many similar concepts that reached a wider audience. I did several mobile phone related projects with groups of students already and at least one always came up with a modular phone.

  • manu

    Well, this had to be done by someone… Good school concept but it stops there. What if you want a bigger display? Then everything falls apart.

    The main reason phones stop being used is not because one or the other part stops working (when was the last time this happened to you?) but because the next new shiny thing is out. Loathe about it, call it planned obsolescence and what not but it’s only human.

    Another obvious problem is that such a phone would be 2-3 times thicker than any other phone, because each and every part has to be packaged in plastic and provided with a physical interface.

    A real game changer would be a concept that encourage people to sell or donate their phone so they don’t just die in a drawer – effectively extending the life of what’s already been produced.

    in other words, fun school project but very short-sighted… needs to try a little harder.

  • gh

    This is such a load of crap. Can’t believe how much media it’s getting.

    • Design by Adrian

      I don’t agree. It’s a cool concept of getting a phone with the hardware features you need/want!

  • lancheloth

    This concept is good, basically the same as a personal computer. The downside of PC upgrading is that when we upgrade the PC the technology base (motherboard) is not compatible with the new part. If the interface and the technology inline between parts this could work. I just cannot imagine the engineering headache when they try to design the hardware interface.

  • DeadKaiser

    I like it. Sure there are a few flaws:

    * People are ethically questionable creatures so the e-waste issue is fundamentally pointless.

    * People like having the newest junk even if it does not impact them.

    * Which company would build a phone where the objective of the phone is to reduce net profit of phone sales? The only logical way this would work is as an expensive niche item or if they managed to take away a large part of other companies’ market share.

    * And one screen size fits all!

    On the plus side, reusable upgradeable electronics that will last is a plus and I’m certain that it would work.

    I would most certainly get one of these if it didn’t come in a grey plastic ‘case’.

  • djnn24

    It’s only a concept at the moment, so the phone wouldn’t actually look like that. The different add-ons would probably be smaller and concealed under a case. If you want a larger screen, then I guess you’d have more room to add extra add-ons.

  • metis

    This seems great in concept, except that it’s entirely impractical, ignores the use and function of a smart phone, and clearly has little to no understanding of how smart phones / computers work.

    Most smart phones have replaceable batteries, other than that almost everything is heavily integrated, and has a lot of inter-connectivity. Think about a laptop, the video card is built into it and the optical disc drive is a minimal chunk of irregular space compared to a desktop drive.

    The concept is interesting. The practicality of adding cases and pins to every component just wastes space and a lot of folks already do replace their own screens, or main boards, or re-solder their audio jacks already. Bad design.

  • Greg

    I would say this idea applies well in countries with phones selling at a lower price point. And just like people wanting the next big / better thing, the same economy would apply, in that you want the next best module. I would totally get one.

  • Mr.G

    There are many problems with this idea.

    The only way to have small phones for now is to place every component in a puzzle-like mess. To put every part in boxes would either double (if not triple) the size of the phone for the same power or require much smaller pieces which would cost a lot more if even possible at all.

    The only nice thing this concept has going in reality is the possibility to change the screen which is the thing that breaks most often.

  • Tai

    I don’t fully understand how the connector for the phone’s processor can be the same as the connector for the phone’s battery. It seems as though the phone’s designer is looking to have all the pins the same, though, as having different pins for different parts would ruin the ability to move modules around freely.

    Also, what if I don’t want all the different modules? Does that mean I’ll end up with lots of gaps on the back of the phone?

    If I decide to get a bigger battery, but other modules no longer fit, then what? A drawer full of little phone modules, I suppose. One of the good things about a regular phone is that you get all these modules already built in, which allows you to use them whenever you want. With this, if I’m out and haven’t attached the Bluetooth module, I’m pretty much stuck.

    The idea of modular consumer goods is theoretically quite good, but the implementation is extremely difficult.

  • Sam Sproul

    What about the thousands of people who break their sleep/wake button? They don’t usually get it fixed.

  • Sam Sproul

    Not sure we want to go back to peg connectors. MagSafe maybe? If you drop it, it shatters instead of breaking?

  • Ondrej Cisler

    Typical design crap this is. You consume so much material and volume on connections to make them work properly and will never be able to maintain real modularity. Only one combination will actually work properly – the most expensive one. The sharp edges will cut holes into your pockets.

    This baby was born dead. But Dezeen rejoices!

  • Look at this MacBook Air, made of highly integrated custom parts. Now look at this mini-tower PC, made of industry-standard, swappable components. Which would you rather carry in your backpack?