Making the Case for an Upgradeable Smartphone


Every once in awhile I head over to Yanko Design, a Web magazine filled with conceptual designs running the gamut from technology to interior design. Most of the concepts will never make it past the rendered image stage, but every so often, I stumble upon a gem that I hope to see become an actual product one day. The "Gravity Series" phone concept is one such design.

The designers -- Lukas Doenz, Joachim Kornauth, Toni Weichselbraun, and Max Salesse -- seem enthralled with the idea of their prototype being able to "offer HD technology within the dimensions of your pocket," but what really got my attention was that their device would "allow for upgradeable components."

Not a whole lot of digital ink was dedicated to this part of the design concept, but it got us thinking nonetheless. Imagine if, like your desktop, you could swap out your mobile phone's processor for a faster chip. Or add more RAM. Or drop in a beefier GPU.

Far fetched? Absolutely. With a mililon and one smartphones on the market and almost as many manufacturers, a standardized form factor is just one of the many roadblocks that stands in the way of this awesome idea. But even if a smartphone version of the ATX standard emerged, several other hurdles remain, such as battery life, varied architectures, cooling, and cost, to name just a few.

Yet despite all this, it's not a forgone conclusion that we'll never see an upgradeable phone, and relatively soon, say within the next 5 or so years. Mobile phones are becoming a lot more like computers with each new generation, with 1GHz processors fast becoming commonplace, and 2GHz clockspeeds just around the corner. And given the cost of some smartphones, we can hardly consider these devices disposable anymore. All it would really take is for one manufacturer to get things moving.

Keep in mind I'm not talking about anything mainstream here, but a niche market approach similar to whitebook notebooks, like OCZ's DIY line . The vast majority of users will never roll their own laptop, and many won't even bother with upgrades. But for those who want to port their desktop experience over to the mobile PC side, the pieces are in place. The same can't be said for mobile phones, and perhaps never will be, but the idea is at least out there. All that's missing is for a manufacturer to take the next step. Even if the upgrade options were highly limited (maybe you can only upgrade the CPU, and you have to purchase it from the phone's manufactuerer) and cost prohibitive (I have no doubt it would be), I'm willing to bet someone would buy it. More importantly, it could be the start of something truly awesome.

What are your thoughts on the idea of an upgradeable smartphone? Could you see something like this taking off, or are there too many hurdles to jump?

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