More than 700 million smartphones were shipped to consumers in 2012, but the gadgets were dated within a matter of months and by 2014, most will be in a landfill.
Global electronic waste output is now 20 to 50 metric tons annually and growing, according to Greenpeace, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says e-waste is the fastest-growing municipal waste stream in America.
Statistics like these are what inspired Dave Hakkens, a recent graduate of Design Academy Eindhoven in the Netherlands, to imagine a smartphone that could last a lifetime. What he came up with is the Phonebloks concept.
"If you have a bike and you get a flat tire, you don’t throw the bike away, you repair the tire," he told SmartPlanet. "With technology and electronics, we don’t do this. We buy it, something breaks, and we throw everything away. I wanted to see if I could change this."
Phonebloks is a customizable Lego-like approach to phone design in which each individual piece, or "blok," is an isolated component that can be replaced.
For example, if you wanted a better camera or more memory, you could simply buy that piece without having to replace your entire phone.
Companies like Apple, Google and Nikon would build and sell these bloks. The Blok Store would share part of the profits with the companies, which would enable even small start-ups to develop smartphone components.
Hakkens launched the Phonebloks concept in September with a social media campaign on crowd-speaking platform Thunderclap. He’s not trying to raise money — he's trying to prove to manufacturers that there's demand for such a smartphone.
"I put the idea online and thought maybe a thousand people would like it at best," he said. "When I published it, over half a million people supported the project. There’s a market for this."
The video explaining the modular concept has already been viewed more than 15 million times, and celebrity endorsers include actor Elijah Wood and traditional and digital media icon Jessica Northey.
Despite Phonebloks' popularity, industry experts say the concept will never become a reality.
"The main reason that the Phoneblok will not hit the market is it will cost more, be bigger and heavier, and be less reliable," said Martin Cooper, inventor of the cellphone. "By the time it could be brought to market, the problem that engendered it will be gone."
George Hahn, who writes the blog Generic Maker, points out another reason that Phonebloks likely wouldn’t work.
"Because of the high speed that data travels in a modern smartphone, the parts all need to be extremely close together. By separating each individual component, it would not be possible to make sure the smartphone could run at the same speed as any given Android or iOS device," he wrote.
But even if Phonebloks don't make it to market, the design's popularity at least tells manufacturers that consumers want a more sustainable smartphone.
Learn more about Phonebloks in the video below.
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