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Project Ara and the LG G5: Is the modular phone alive or dead?

August 07, 2016

Project Ara and the LG G5:  Is the Modular Phone Alive—or Dead?

Project Ara, the LG G5 and the impending decline of iPhone sales have sparked a lot of commentary recently about modular smartphones. Be it Google’s announcement of another delay in the Project Ara modular phone launch or news of the faltering sales of the LG G5 and iPhones. Much of the commentary centers on whether modular phones are alive or dead, with many leading publications proclaiming that the concept of modular phones is not the way forward.

However, the stuttering sales of the LG G5 should not be a benchmark for the future of modular phone technology. There is a need for a modular solution. Consumers today are already buying bulky accessories to augment their smartphone performance. However, modularity should come in the form of a mobile phone case, a smart accessory and not as a modular phone.  More as an evolutionary consumer behaviour change rather than the revolution of Project Ara and modular swappable components for smartphones!


Project Ara News —It’s been Delayed for what Seems Like Forever

Natasha Lomas of TechCrunch, recently wrote a piece noting that the Project Ara modular smartphone concept is—for all intents and purposes—dead. At least total smartphone modularity is dead, she said. The prototype Google showed off at the I/O event in May was stripped back to a few swappable units that will not include core phone componenst. Now it will supposedly have six spaces on the back for swappable modules; we think this is more a copy of Nexpaq’s approach.

She noted that even Project Ara lead engineer, Rafa Camargo said in an interview with CNET that one reason why upcoming modular smartphones will not feature the ability to replace components is because of the following: “When we did our user studies, what we found is that most users don’t care about modularizing the core functions. They expect them all to be there, to always work, and to be consistent.”

The original inspiration for the Ara phone was in fact another concept called Phonebloxs (which I’m sure many of you recall). Phonebloxs is holding true to the roots, while Ara is changing direction.


Dave Hakkens, creator of the Phonebloks concept says Project Ara isn’t the modular dream it’s touted to be. On his blog, Hakkens explains where the Ara phone falls down as a modular phone. His main criticism is that it’s not actually properly modular, at least not in the sense that he’d originally imagined. He says it’s modular in part, in definition, but not in spirit. And as he understood it, one of the goals was to create a device that acts as a shell from which you create the device you need.


Unveiled March 31 with much fanfare. The star of Mobile World Congress. The Korea Herald reported that LG G5 topped smartphone sales in Korea during the first week of April. Sales on the day of its launch reached 15,000 units -- three times that of its predecessor. But things turned sour just a month later:  daily sales nosedived to 3,000 units in May, and the phone slipped to the fourth place in terms of smartphone sales in the following weeks, according to market research firm Atlas Research & Consulting.

Supply shortage was cited as the main reason for the sales drop, but the fundamental problem ran deeper, according to market watchers.

We did our own review of the LG G5 review: the alternative view of a modular phone.

Stan Schroeder of Mashable says he believes the answer is, at least partially, “in the concept of a modular phone itself. Paying for extra modules at smartphone purchase might not sit well with a lot of buyers, coupled with the fact that it might take a long time before customers start thinking about upgrading their modular phones.”

The fact that you have to open your phone up and remove the battery just to add an attachment is not convenient either.  You can also not put a phone case on any of the modular solutions in the market which is a major downside if you drop it.

So, while some major players are banking on modular phones to be the next big thing, there are a slew of pundits who believe that modular phones, at least in their current state, are doomed to fail.

Otterbox has developed a case that they claim is modular.  But in reality it just allows you to clip on already existing attachments to the phone case. See our Otterbox Review.

What then is the solution?


The Case for the Modular Phone Case, not the Modular Phone

There are some clues as to the future in what has come before:

  1. Coming back to the findings of Google's Project Ara user studies, that users do not want to modularize core smartphone functions. They want a working smartphone.
  2. Consumers want to be able to protect their phones - so phone cases are important to work with any solution.
  3. If you want a modular solution of a non-core function then it has to be attachable and detachable.

The above consumer needs are met by the i-BLADES Smartcase. That is why we believe that the path forward for modular phone technology starts with a modular phone case.  As opposed to a modular phone like Project Ara. Taking the consumer on their first step into a modular future see a previous blog on this.


The i-BLADES Smartcase is— a modular phone expansion platform that lets consumers  add functional enhancements to their smartphone so that they can have all the features and functions that they really want. The case is based on a minimalist design. The idea behind the Smartcase is that first and foremost consumers already buy a module-- AKA cases-- to protect their phones. They also buy other modules such as  back-up power, more storage, Fit Bits, screens,, plus other functionality including streaming TV, managing  health, or controlling other devices. As a matter of fact, the possibilities for added functions is almost limitless. And, after all, isn’t that what IoT is all about anyway, giving  consumers more modules.


Part of the beauty of the modular phone case concept is that one case can make any smartphone a modular phone. This means with a modular phone case, your phone can grow with you and what you need it to do.

We’ll have to wait for more Ara news on whether more delays are likely and when the Ara phone will finally be available. Or if the Moto Z captures sales and imagination.  But the facts are that the genie is out of the bottle in regards modular phone technology and there is a huge interest from consumers. Which as yet has not translated into sales. So its too early to proclaim the death of modular phone technology.

Its too early to proclaim the death of modular phone technology. Its also too early to say what solution will win out. Whether Project Ara, Phonebloks, the LG G5 or Moto Z. But if you look at the underlying consumer needs as I-BLADES has done then it is easy to understand why the modular phone case and not the modular phone is the most likely way forward. Are you ready to future-proof your smartphone now?  Check out the i-BLADES Smartcase.