Ask Hackaday: Why Did Modular Smart Phones Fail?

Remember all the talk about modular smart phones? They sounded amazing! instead of upgrading your phone you would just upgrade the parts a bit like a computer but more simplistic. Well it seems modular phones are dead (video, embedded below) even after a lot of major phone manufacturers were jumping on the bandwagon. Even Google got on-board with Google Ara which was subsequently cancelled. LG released the G5 but it didn’t fare too well. The Moto Z from Motorola seemed to suffer from the same lack of interest. The buzz was there when the concept of these modular phones was announced, and people were genuinely exited about the possibilities. What went wrong?

For a start people expect their phones to have everything on board already, whether it be cameras, GPS, WiFi, high-capacity batteries or high-resolution screens. Consumers expect these things to come as standard. Why would they go out and buy a module when other phones on the market already have these things?

Sure you could get some weird and wonderful modules like extra loud speakers or perhaps a projector, but the demand for these items was small. And because these extras are already available as separate accessories not locked down to one device, it was a non starter from the beginning.

When we did our user studies. What we found is that most users don’t care about modularizing the core functions. They expect them all to be there, to always work and to be consistent. — Lead engineer Project Ara

The hackability of these phones would have been interesting to say the least, had they come to the mainstream. It just seems the public want thin sleek aluminum phones that they treat more as a status symbol than anything else. Modular phones have to be more bulky to accommodate the power/data rails and magnets for the modules, so they’ll lose out in pocketability. Still, we hope the idea is revisited in the future and not left on the scrap-heap of obsolescence.

Would you buy a modular smart phone? Even if it is bigger or more expensive? Is that really why they failed?
Continue reading “Ask Hackaday: Why Did Modular Smart Phones Fail?”

Upgrading RAM on a Nexus 5X

A screenshot of the status screen indicating the phone has detected the extended RAM.

A denizen of the venerable XDA forums reports that it is possible to upgrade the RAM of the Nexus 5X from 2GB to 4GB.  Having suffered the dreaded bootloop, [Cathair2906] decided to send their phone off to China for repair. The technician advised that since reflow of the CPU was necessary anyway, it makes sense to upgrade the RAM as well. This is due to the RAM actually being fitted directly on top of the CPU, a method amusingly known as Package on Package (SFW).

Upgrading RAM in the average computer is a relatively trivial task. Pop the case open, and you slide the new sticks into the extra slots. It’s not the same case for smartphones and tablets — in the endless quest for the slimmest form factor, all parts are permanently soldered. In addition, every device is essentially bespoke hardware; there’s no single overarching hardware standard for RAM in portable devices. You could find yourself searching high and low for the right chips, and if you do track them down, the minimum order quantity may very well be in the thousands.

Unless, of course, you had access to the Shenzhen markets where it’s possible to buy sample quantities of almost anything. Given access to the right parts, and the ability to solder BGA packages, it’s a simple enough job to swap a bigger RAM chip on top of the CPU during the repair.

It’s the sort of thing that’s trivial in Shenzhen, and almost mind-bogglingly impossible in the West. The price of the repair? About $60 USD. [Cathair2906] was even nice enough to share the address of the shop that did the work.

We’ve seen similar antics before – like this Nexus 5 storage upgrade to 64GB.

[via XDA Developers, thanks to Jack for the tip!]

Fix-a-Brick: Fighting the Nexus 5X Bootloop

Oh Nexus 5X, how could you? I found my beloved device was holding my files hostage having succumbed to the dreaded bootloop. But hey, we’re hackers, right? I’ve got this.

It was a long, quiet Friday afternoon when I noticed my Nexus 5X was asking to install yet another update. Usually I leave these things for a few days before eventually giving in, but at some point I must have accidentally clicked to accept the update. Later that day I found my phone mid-way through the update and figured I’d just wait it out. No dice — an hour later, my phone was off. Powering up led to it repeatedly falling back to the “Google” screen; the dreaded bootloop.

Stages of Grief

I kept my phone on me for the rest of the night’s jubilant activities, playing with it from time to time, but alas, nothing would make it budge. The problem was, my Nexus still had a full day’s video shoot locked away on its internal flash that I needed rather badly. I had to fix the phone, at least long enough to recover my files. This is the story of my attempt to debrick my Nexus 5X.

Continue reading “Fix-a-Brick: Fighting the Nexus 5X Bootloop”

IoT-ify All Things: LG Has Gone Overboard

If you been following Hackaday lately, you’ve surely noticed an increased number of articles about IoT-ifying stuff. It’s a cool project to take something old (or new) and improve its connectivity, usually via WiFi, making it part of the Internet of Things. Several easy to use modules, in particular the ESP8266, are making a huge contribution to this trend. It’s satisfactory to see our homes with an ESP8266 in every light switch and outlet or to control our old stereo with our iPhone. It gives us a warm fuzzy feeling. And that’s completely fine for one’s personal projects.

But what happens when this becomes mainstream? When literally all our appliances are ‘connected’ in the near future? The implications might be a lot harder to predict than expected. The near future, it seems, starts now.

This year, at CES, LG Electronics (LG) has introduced Smart InstaView™, a refrigerator that’s powered by webOS smart platform and integrated with Amazon’s Alexa Voice Service.

… with webOS, consumers can also explore a host of WiFi-enabled features directly on the refrigerator, creating a streamlined and powerful food management system all housed directly on the front of the fridge door. Amazon’s Alexa Voice Service gives users access to an intelligent personal assistant that, in addition to searching recipes, can play music, place Prime-eligible orders from Amazon.com…

This is ‘just’ a fridge. There are other WiFi-enabled appliances by now, so what?  Apparently, during the LG press conference last Wednesday, the company marketing VP David VanderWaal said that from 2017 on, all of LG’s home appliances will feature “advanced Wi-Fi connectivity”.

Notice the word advanced, we wonder what that means? Will ‘advanced’ mean complicated? Mesh? Secure? Intelligent? Will our toaster finally break the Internet and ruin it for everyone by the end of the year? Will the other big players in the home appliances market jump in the WiFi wagon? We bet the answer is yes.

Here be dragons.

[via Ars Technica]

Sniffing Out LG Smart TV Tracking Protocol

[DoctorBeet] noticed the advertisements on the landing screen of his new LG smart television and started wondering about tracking. His curiosity got the better of him when he came across a promotional video aimed at advertisers that boasts about the information gathered from people who use these TVs. He decided to sniff the web traffic. If what he discovered is accurate, there is an invasive amount of data being collect by this hardware. To make matters worse, his testing showed that even if the user switches the “Collection of watching info” menu item to off it doesn’t stop the data from being phoned home.

The findings start off rather innocuous, with the channel name and a unique ID being transmitted every time you change the station. Based on when the server receives the packets a description of your schedule and preferred content can be put together. This appears to be sent as plain data without any type of encryption or obfuscation.

Things get a lot more interesting when he discovers that filenames from a USB drive connected to the television are being broadcast as well. The server address they’re being sent to is a dead link — which makes us think this is some type of debugging step that was left in the production firmware — but it is still a rather sizable blunder when it comes to personal privacy. If you have one of these televisions [DoctorBeet] has a preliminary list of URLs to block with your router in order to help safeguard your privacy.

[Thanks Radcom]

Change the TV channel over IP

tv-channel-change-over-ip

[Mustafa Dur] wrote in to tell us about his hack to control the television with a smartphone. Now the one-IR-remote-to-rule-them hacks have been gaining popularity lately so we assumed that’s how he was doing it. We were wrong. He’s using his satellite receiver to provide the Internet connection. It pushes commands to his LG 47LH50 TV which has an RS-232 port.

The image above is the back of another LG television (it came from a forum post about controlling the TV with a PC). [Mustafa] is using a Dreambox DM800 satellite receiver which also has a serial port an he can telnet into it. He searched around the Internet and discovered that it should be possible to connect the two using a null modem cable. His initial tests resulted in no response, but a tweak to the com port settings of the box got his first command to shut off the television. After a bit of tweaking he was able to lock in reliable communications which he made persistent by writing his own startup script. From there he got to work on a Python script which works as the backend for a web-based control interface.

If you want to find out what else you can do with this type of serial connection read about this hack which used a script to try every possible command combination.

Hackaday links: September 11, 2012

Xbee sensors at Lowe’s?

Lowe’s, the home improvement big box store, is selling some home automation items which might be Xbee compatible. They’re being sold under the brand name Iris. There is some debate as to whether they’re Xbee, or just 802.15.4 hardware. Either way they might be worth checking out for your wireless projects.

Father sword replica from Conan the Barbarian

Sometimes its just fun to watch the master at work. In this case it’s a blacksmith replicating the sword from Conan the Barbarian. [via Reddit]

LG washing machine that phones home

LG has built an interesting troubleshooting feature into some of their washing machines. This video shows the encoded audio it will output if you use the right button combination. You’re supposed to hold your phone up to the machine while talking to customer service and they’ll be able to get some type of debugging information from the dial-up modem type of sounds. If you end up decoding this audio we want to know about it! [Thanks Pedro]

MicroSD card adapter for Raspberry Pi

[TopHatHacker] was surprised to see a full-sized SD card slot on the Raspberry Pi. His temporary solution to get his microSD card working was to uses a miniSD adapter. He cut away the case and bent the pins until they lined up with the microSD card.

Batman’s cowl for retro motorcycle enthusiasts

Okay, we think this Batman cowl in the style of 1950’s motorcycle garb is pretty cool. Just realize that if you’re seen wearing this you will be thought of as one of the crazy guys in town. [via BoingBoing]