The way we use computers is a bit messed up. We have a computer in our pocket with a 5 inch screen which we use for phone calls. We have another computer with a 10 inch screen which we use to web browse and consume Internet content. Then we often have yet another computer with an actual physical keyboard, and about a 15 inch screen. Now there are a new generation of computers that are built into eyeglasses! These computers are of course, a cell phone, a tablet, a laptop and Google Glass.
Our files are scattered between the devices or in the cloud if we are really crafty. Even trying to transfer files between them is a chore sometimes. Often they are missing input ports like USB or SD slots. It’s a mess.
A computer has to do three main things. First, get input. This can be from touch, or typing. Second it has to process the input. To do this it needs a processor, RAM, and a power source. Finally, the computer has to output the results. It can do this on a variety of outputs including various sizes of screens.
Perhaps there is a way to change these form factors around a bit. A few companies are working on this.
What Motorola wants to do is build a modular smartphone by 3d printing customizable pieces. It’s based on an idea called Phonebloks.
What you get from this is a reconfigurable computer. You can take the computing module out and put it into a laptop frame and poof you have a laptop. You can have it connect up via Bluetooth to your glasses display and camera and get augmented reality.
Sounds great but it won’t work. Oh sure there are lots of reasons people are giving as to why it won’t work but I think people are missing the real reason. (here’s one reason)
The reason I don’t think it will work has to do with economics. The cost of computers are continuing to drop rapidly. It will just be cheaper to build a little computing power into everything. Sort of a computing substrate that exists all around us. Most of our data will live in the cloud or be able to be transfered rapidly between computers. I do think that 3d printing of customized cell phones will become a reality pretty soon. I just don’t see modular parts being economical.
In other news, check out this new kit on Kickstarter that lets kids experiment and build their own computers. That is cool and is a place where modular design will be huge.