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Dutch Designer Seeks A Smarter Smartphone That Will Last Forever

  • Antoine Blua

Could this be the smartphone of the future?

Could this be the smartphone of the future?

The world's hottest new smartphone isn't even close to being on the market. In fact, it's not even being manufactured yet. But hundreds of thousands of consumers already say they want one.

With little more than a website and a YouTube video, Dutch designer Dave Hakkens is seeking to upend the smartphone market with something called Phonebloks.

The idea is simple: enable consumers to replace individual components of their phone -- the screen, speakers, battery, storage, camera etc. -- while retaining the device's basic frame.

It's essentially a phone you assemble like Lego.

Hakkens argues in a Phonebloks promotional YouTube video, which has gone viral with more than 15 million views, that thinking about a smartphone as a series of replaceable components or modules would reduce electronic waste and lower costs.

"Every day, we throw away millions of electronic devices because they get old and become worn out," the video's narrator says. "But usually it's only one of the components that causes the problem. The rest of the device works fine, but is needlessly thrown away simply because electronic devices are not designed to last."

WATCH: Introducing the Phonebloks concept (promotional video):

The video also claims that the Phonebloks concept would empower consumers, giving them the opportunity to customize their devices according to their own requirements by buying only the "blocs" they need.

"Let’s say this is your phone and you do everything in the cloud, why not replace your storage blok for a bigger battery blok?" the video narration says. "If you're [a guy who likes] to take pictures, why not upgrade your camera? Or if you don't care about any of this stuff, you can keep it simple, and get a bigger speaker."

To get the project off the ground, however, Hakkens will need to get investors, developers, and manufacturers onboard.

Social Media 'Thunderclap'

To build support and buzz -- and to demonstrate that a potential market exists -- he is using the "crowd-speaking" platform "Thunderclap," which allows people to pledge support for causes on social-media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, or Tumblr.

Thunderclap stockpiles these "tweets," "likes," and "recommends" and unleashes them simultaneously in one big blast for maximum impact.

So far, more than 800,000 people with a social media reach of over 300 million have pledged support for the Phonebloks project.

The platform is scheduled to unleash its barrage of tweets and likes on October 29.

"To show them there is an interest for this phone, we need your voice," the video says. "You can donate your social reach on the website. We gather as much people as possible. On October 29, we send out the blast all at the same time, spreading all your voices to show the world there is a need for a phone worth keeping."

Analysts say the Phonebloks concept is sound, but add that overcoming the existing business model of smartphone manufacturers will be difficult.

In an e-mail interview, Laurie Lamberth, a San Francisco-based wireless industry analyst, called the idea "brilliant," adding that smartphones are "loaded with expensive features" that “hardly anyone uses."

But whether such a concept would work will depend on things like "how it feels in the hand, how heavy it is [and] what happens when you drop it."

She added that gaining mobile operator distribution agreements will be a “critical."

Likewise, U.S. technology industry analyst Jeff Kagan called Phonebloks "a good and innovative idea," but noted that changing the economic model of the wireless business would require a "a huge effort if at all possible."