Everybody loves innovation – it is what we ask of our smartphone manufacturers all of the time, with the expectation that our smartphones can do just about anything. Any phone can make and receive calls, send text messages, play music, or watch videos – but as a full-functioning personal assistant, we expect more. Streaming movies, games, and videos are gaining in popularity can resolution aside, can our smartphones put out the sound we expect while watching a movie? While it was once an afterthought with a smartphone, photography, and selfies are now a mainstream demand in our society – taking pictures and posting them to Facebook, G+, and other social media sights is an everyday occurrence – the same with selfies. And then there is Virtual Reality (VR). Suffice it to say, we demand a lot from our smartphones nowdays.
LG had the very successful LG G3, LG G4, and G Flex models going and this past year they had a management shake-up and came out with an entirely new LG G5 model. LG rid the device of its fake metal and made the new design completely out of metal. It had all of the parts and pieces including a QHD display, the Snapdragon 820 processor, the Adreno 530 GPU for graphics, 4GB of DDR4 RAM, 32GB of expandable internal storage, a great camera area, and even maintained a removable battery. Then it was discovered that LG painted the metal to add color and hide the antenna lines and that the new LG G5 was a modular phone, capable of accepting third-party modules to increase the phone's capabilities.
This modular design was the first of its kind. You push a button on the side of the device and the lower chin of the LG G5 becomes removable. With the bottom removed from the phone, you are free to slide in and snap in place the modules. It can be as simple as a spare battery to a more complicated LG Cam Plus, which adds a camera on/off button, Zoom Wheel, Shutter Button, Record Button, and a LED to alert you it is running. It turns your LG G5 in what looks like a point-and-shoot camera and adds an extra 1,200 mAh battery. LG Hi-Fi Plus developed with Band & Olufsen adds 32-bit Hi-Fi DAC up-sampling to add some great sound to your LG G5.
LG had all the right ingredients, but it now seems clear that sales are way off their expectations. Some of suspected reasons for this lowered sales realization includes concerns about the look, the price of the modules and whether they are necessary and/or could they be used in future editions. Then there were the problems with quality – not only with broken modules, but also with the LG G5. Users are not happy about the gap between the phone and the module, which appears to be a poorly engineered design. Possibly a result of LG looking to rush to get out the LG G5. However, when you are putting out a new design, problems such as these do not build up confidence in the new product, let alone the field of modularity in general. It is a problem, but one that can be fixed with next year's design. While some might view the LG G5 as an indictment on future modular smartphones, it seems they are here to stay.
The thought of modules certainly did not scare away Lenovo – look at the new Moto Z phones that use Moto Mods, which Lenovo has already stated can be utilized on future Moto phones. What is so ingenious about their approach is that there is no invasion into the body of the device. They stick on with contact points, magnets, snap in place and are ready to use. They also have several Moto Mods already available for purchase now. The other nice thing about the Moto design is that it can be used for something as simple as adding a decorative backing if you decide you are not that into Mods.
It will be a while before we see how the new Moto Z phones sell of course, but they stand a much better chance of surviving than the LG G5 did. It all starts with the design and implementation – using the base of a device opens it up for all kinds of problems and user doubts and questions. The way Lenovo approached the subject does not affect the inside of the device at all as it is a snap on and snap off type of design. Building a modular phone this way can produce a device that can be reliable over an extended period of time – something buyers have a concern about with the LG G5…and rightly so. With the Moto Z, you never have to buy a Moto Mod and worry about any gaps or loose fitting parts.
The whole idea behind modules is extending the life of the device by changing it or adding to it with modules, but if the wear and tear of pulling things in and out of the device causes problems, nothing is actually gained. They always say that one bad apple won't spoil the whole bunch, and let's hope that is the case with the LG G5. LG got started on the wrong foot and Lenovo is highlting that there are different ways to handle modules correctly. The truth of the matter is that the modular idea can really expand your smartphone's horizons – it just has to be addressed in the proper way.