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?”

Turning a Lapdock into a Laptop with the Pi Zero

Do you remember the Motorola Lapdock 100? It was a CPU-less laptop designed for plugging in your smartphone that enabled you to use your phone as a computer! Perhaps a bit ahead of its time, they never really caught on — but now you can buy them pretty cheap, and with the release of the Raspberry Pi Zero, it was only a matter of time before someone combined the two.

The Lapdock 100 has long been a useful accessory for the Raspberry Pi, but until the Zero came out, it was always a messy bundle of wires running to and from the devices, making it a less than ideal solution. The Zero changes everything. [Ax0n] knew he had to try combining the two.

Continue reading “Turning a Lapdock into a Laptop with the Pi Zero”

Hackaday Links: August 30, 2015

A month ago, we ran a post about [Jim]’s rare and strange transparent microchips. He’s back at it again, this time taking a look at the inner workings of MOSFETs

The Unallocated Space hackerspace is moving, and they’re looking for a few donations to get the ball rolling.

Yes, it’s a Kickstarter for a 3D printer, but the LumiPocket is interesting, even if only on the basis of the engineering choices. It’s a UV laser resin printer, and they’re using a SCARA arm to move the laser around. They’re also doing a top-down resin tank; it requires more resin, but it seems to work well enough.

Around DC or northern Virginia? We’re going to be there on September 11th through the 13th. We’re holding a Hackaday Prize Worldwide meetup at Nova Labs in Reston, Virgina. Sign up now! Learn KiCAD with [Anool]! Meet [Sudo Bob]! It’ll be a blast.

Not around DC or NOVA? This Wednesday we’ll be hosting another chat on .io.

The GEnx is one of the most beautiful and advanced engines in the world, and that means [Harcoreta] oven on the RC groups forums has made one of the most beautiful electric ducted fans in the world. On the outside, it looks like a GEnx, including reverse thrust capabilities, but inside it’s pure electronics: a brushless motor rotates a 100mm, 18-blade fan. He’s hoping to mount it on a Bixler (!). We can’t wait for the video of the maiden.

Adding a SIM card to the Photon Q 4G LTE

[Charles] is a big fan of phones that have physical keyboards. He thinks they are better suited for writing lengthy emails, but unfortunately his HTC Desire Z was getting old so he had to replace it. [Charles] therefore decided to import the Motorola Photon Q from the USA which exposed one major problem. The Verizon phone uses CDMA so there is nowhere to put a GSM SIM. But a bit of hacking allowed him to add a SIM card slot to it. Even though he’s not the one who originally found this hack (XDA thread here), his write-up is definitely an interesting read. To perform this modification, he needed a hot air reflow station, a soldering iron, a Dremel with the appropriate cutting wheel and several SIM card slot assemblies from the Galaxy S3 (as the first ones usually get burned during the disassembly process).

Obviously the first steps involved opening the phone, which may have taken a while. Using hot air, [Charles] removed the EMI shield covering the SIM card IC . He then extracted the latter using the same technique. Finally, he removed another EMI shield covering the contacts to which the SIM card slot should be connected. A few minutes/hours of delicate soldering and case modding later, [Charles] could use his SIM card on his brand new phone.

Ask Hackaday: Does Project Ara Solve the Phonebloks’ Problems?

motorolaProjectAra

Our tips line is blowing up again, this time directing us to Motorola’s Project Ara: a phone with modular components that plug into a base “endoskeleton.” If you missed the news coverage strewn across the web and you are doing a double-take, that’s because Project Ara is frighteningly similar to the (presumed vaporware) Phonebloks concept from a few weeks ago. Phonebloks was the subject of our last “Ask Hackaday” article, generating hundreds of comments ranging from those defending the concept to those furiously opposed to it.

There’s a conspiracy theory circulating that suggests Motorola released the Phonebloks concept as a viral marketing scheme to generate hype before revealing the official product line. We suspect it’s a bit less conniving. As [jorde] explained on Hacker News, an Israeli startup, Modu, had developed a similar modular cell phone several years ago, and Google bought the patents in May of 2011. A few months later, Google bought something else: Motorola. It seems likely that Project Ara is merely a resurrected and revised Modu, and Motorola conveniently announced it in the wake of Phonebloks’ popularity. Regardless, Motorola has announced that they have partnered with Phonebloks’ creator Dave Hakkens .

So what’s different? Phonebloks was met with cries of “vaporware!” and fervent arguments raising concerns about unavoidable hardware limitations. Motorola claims their goal is:

to do for hardware what the Android platform has done for software: create a vibrant third-party developer ecosystem, lower the barriers to entry, increase the pace of innovation, and substantially compress development timelines.

Unlike Project Ara, Phonebloks didn’t consider open-source hardware (Wayback Machine link), and Motorola makes an interesting argument here: that advances in 3D printing indicate an evolving “open hardware ecosystem,” and the next era of phone development may rest in the hands of your average hacker or a small startup company. Some speculate that the Ara will be similar to the relationship between a PC and its peripherals: Motorola provides the essential guts while giving you some slots for attaching additional components. Let us know in the comments what you think about Project Ara: is it just more vaporware, or a watered-down but plausible alternative to Phonebloks?  And, perhaps most important: do you, as a hacker, want a phone that supports open hardware and lets you plug in “peripherals?” The Phonebloks website has since changed to reflect the partnership with Motorola, and includes a new video that you can watch below.

Continue reading “Ask Hackaday: Does Project Ara Solve the Phonebloks’ Problems?”

Rebuilding a 1940s TV

TV

There’s a lot of cool stuff to be found under piles of trash in an antique store. [dijt] discovered this when he found a tiny 7″ Motorola television from the 1940s under a stack of trinkets from earlier eras. We can understand [dijt]’s impulse buy, and the trials of rebuilding this ancient TV more than qualifies it as a hack.

If you know where to look, there are hundreds of resources available for old televisions, Hi-Fis, and radio equipment from the dawn of the electrical era to the modern day. After consulting with a few forums, [dijt] got his hands on a schematic for his television set and began work on diagnosing what was wrong with it.

It turned out the original ballast tube in this set had long since given up the ghost. Luckily, this is a common problem in old TVs, and after consulting some forums [dijt] had a schematic to replace this ballast tube with some newer caps and resistors.

After constructing the circuit and testing it out, [dijt] mounted it in the old ballast tube to replicate the original look and feel of the 1949 television. Interestingly, this is the second time this TV had been restored; the 1960s-era caps and resistors told [djit] this TV had once went into a television repair shop. Let’s just hope [djit] remembered to glue the schematics to the inside of the chassis this time.

Rooting your AT&T U-verse modem

Unhappy with the performance of his U-verse modem [Jordan] decided to dig in and see if a bit of hacking could improve the situation. Motorola makes this exclusively for AT&T and there are no other modems on the market which can used instead. Luckily he was able to fix almost everything that was causing him grief. This can be done in one of two ways. The first is a hardware hack that gains access to a shell though the UART. The second is a method of rooting the device from its stock web interface.

We think the biggest improvement gained by hacking this router is true bridge mode. The hardware is more than capable of behaving this way but AT&T has disabled the feature with no option for an unmodified device to use it. By enabling it the modem does what a modem is supposed to do: translate between WAN and LAN. This allows routing to be handled by a router (novel idea huh?).