A DiY Upgradable Smartphone. An idea whose time has come. The ClonePhone - for kids of all ages.
Like many of you, I built a computer when I was a kid. Not at first, of course. In fact, my first computer was a TI99/4A running BASIC. It was a great way to while away the hours playing Moon Patrol(which you can play online here) and writing infinite loops.
When I was 11, my folks and I made a deal, they’d match whatever money I’d save to buy a computer. I dreamed of getting a Mac SE but couldn’t afford the sticker price. Instead, a Packard Bell XT running MSDOS and a CGA(4 colors!) monitor was in my future (want one?).
Disappointment of not getting a Mac gave way to gleeful discovery as I began to explore the fact that the limitations of my new PC weren’t limitations they were just a starting point. Soon I was adding memory, then a mouse, an EGA(16 colors!) card and monitor, and later a modem to dial up to neighborhood BBS’s(bittorrent, circa 1988). I remember even running a crazy windows OS called GEOS Geoworks on that puppy (though games always pulled me back to DOS). Eventually, my poor XT chip just couldn’t swing it, so it was time to upgrade!
I was learning a ton, having a blast and that experience had a major impact on my interest in and comfort with technology.
Fast forward to today and, ironically, it’s much harder for kids to hack/mod/build hardware than it was even 10 years ago(hold your horses arduino fans, I’ll get to you).
I can’t even change the battery on my macbook today without ripping it apart and voiding my Applecare warranty. Nearly every technology we use now is a “closed” hardware system - gaming consoles, Macs and most PC’s(still upgradable, sometimes), set top boxes, tv’s all tablets, and worst of all, the little computer that we’re all carrying - smartphones. In fact, it’s now illegal to unlock your smartphone. Seriously.
In the case of smartphones, many factors have driven this: commoditization, planned obsolescence, hardware refresh cycles, the demand for the “new new” thing, but most of all a multi-billion dollar industry built on locking us into expensive phones and more expensive phone plans. This is our in.
We need hardware tech that kids(of all ages) are invited to hack/mod/upgrade. And why not do it on the platform that’s accessible to every kid all the time - their phone. We need a “clone” smartphone or clonePhone.
Imagine - a standards based phone platform with interchangeable parts - cases, screens, processors, batteries, plugins, memory, wifi, network, camera…interoperable, world capable, usable on any network…
The potential industry for mod-able smartphone “cases” alone is pretty amazing to imagine - screens on both sides - sure, why not. Wearable phones - absolutely. Android powered motorola star tac flip phone throw back? Hell yes. Build it, upgrade it, show it off.
Hackers, arduino and raspberry pi designers and developers, android and mozilla os developers, case makers, 3D printer/designers - imagine! A generation of future engineers and hobbyists hang in the balance - make hardware tech fun again.
A generation of kids are growing up thinking that switching their iphone case is as good as it gets.
There are challenges, to be sure, but nothing that the DiY community isn’t up for. There’s a revolution happening in DiY hardware and the hobbyist set led most prominently by the explosion of arduino and raspberry pi.
And while we’re at it, why should we let Apple, Samsung and HTC have all the fun and dictate what our phones can do and how they do it? Why do we need to be locked to one carrier? Why does a phone have to cost $700 and not be upgradable?