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Cellphones Hardware Hacking

Modu Unveils Modular, Transformer-style Phone 88

An anonymous reader writes "A company called Modu has come up with an innovative take on a mobile phone. Instead of giving you the finished product, you get a base unit and a choice of 'sleeves', which you can plug the base unit into and turn it into a variety of devices. "If, for example, you're going out clubbing, you can pop it into a fashion sleeve with a fancy design. If you're on a business trip and you need a phone with a Qwerty keypad and large screen, you just have to pop it into a 'jacket' with those features." There's also the option to plug it into a satellite navigation device or even a car stereo. While it seems like an interesting system, I wonder whether modular devices are better than buying standalone products or all-in-one products?"
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Modu Unveils Modular, Transformer-style Phone

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  • Me to have a QWERTY keyboard without having a camera (no camera phones at my job), then I'll buy one. As would a lot of my co-workers, since they aren't springing for us to all buy Blackberries.
    • They list the price for this as 200 euros to 150 pounds - so about $300. That's the same cost as a Blackberry so if you or your employer won't buy one of those, you probably aren't getting one of these either.
      • by ATMD ( 986401 )
        Except that a lot of tech is very nearly dollar-for-pound. So yes if you work in the UK you might have problems, but if you're in the US it could cost as little as $150.
    • by mrxak ( 727974 )
      You work at the CIA or something?
      • by Amouth ( 879122 )
        he doesn't have to work for the CIA.. just about every fortune 500 company doesn't allow camera's (including the ones in phones) into their R&D departments. also any company that has a unique proccess for manufacturing doesn't allow them.

        when you go work for the CIA or other places with that level of information security.. you don't get to take any phone and some times you arn't even allowed to see where you are going.
        • by jdray ( 645332 )
          IANASA, but I would bet that, if you're at such a clearance level that you're allowed to see "ultra super top secret, eyes only" type information, they don't care if you know where you went to look at it. I suspect that a lot of the stuff you see in movies is for dramatic purposes only. But then, how would we know?
          • by Amouth ( 879122 )
            well i and others that i work with know.. we are out side consultants.. some times we are only cleared for X area and if we have to go through a restricted area well - and it isn't "ultra super top" it is just information that they don't want shared with either the public at large or competting companies.
          • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

            by Anonymous Coward
            From my previous life in a defence-industry related engineering job, I can tell you that none of us were allowed cameras or iPods. The USB ports were disabled and we weren't allowed to have thumb drives anyway (just in case). Oh yea, no wireless keyboards either. None of us were government employees. Few of us had any sort of clearance. Those that had Secret clearance had to go into a special room to view that sort of information. Nothing we did was Hollywood material, but most of it was export controlled a
            • by jdray ( 645332 )
              That all sounds reasonable. I was replying to: some times you arn't even allowed to see where you are going. That conjures up visions of blindfolded agents in the back of black sedans being taken to "undisclosed locations" for receipt of classified information. That sounds like somewhat of a stretch to me.
        • This is becoming more common at regular employers...I work for a large bank, and in many job functions they don't allow camera phones on the production floor; basically anywhere there is proprietary or confidential info laying around, including sensitive customer information, posters with production metrics, whiteboards with strategic plans scribbled on, etc.
          • by Amouth ( 879122 )
            saddly enough i know of one company that doesnt' allow cameras in the production facility due to posiable OSHA violations - not that the phone would violate OSHA rules - but they don't want photo evidence of OSHA violations being sent out before they company even knows they exist, very paranoid but true.. they are worried that a disgruntaled employee would set up an area to be unsafe take the picture and then turn the company in.

            It is easier for the company to disalow cameras without permission than to par
    • I take it you're not allowed to just get a normal phone and either 'remove' or otherwise 'disable' the camera?

      Some ideas:
      • Cover lens in electrical tape (behind faceplate if applicable to keep smooth outer surface)
      • Paint lens of camera black
      • Replace faceplate with one that has either no camera 'hole'
      • Scuff lens with rough sand paper so that camera is unable to take photographs of any value
    • Check out the last picture:

      http://crave.cnet.co.uk/mobiles/0,39029453,49295452-4,00.htm [cnet.co.uk]

      I want one of those Boom buttons for my work keyboard. Maybe every time I hit it the whole building shudders under a big BOOM... Would be a fun way of getting rid of the loud people talking in the hallway in front of my door...
    • Why not try and get hold of a secondhand Nokia 9300? I got one and find it quite useful.
  • would certainly NOT want to bump into a Decepticon on the dance floor.....
  • open system? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by lobiusmoop ( 305328 ) on Thursday February 07, 2008 @03:20PM (#22337980) Homepage
    Anybody know if this is an open design? If there is support for third parties to develop and sell sleeves without heavy licencing limitations it might be interesting. Otherwise it will probably go the way of betamax - overtaken by cheaper, more widely supported alternatives.
  • by way2trivial ( 601132 ) on Thursday February 07, 2008 @03:21PM (#22338018) Homepage Journal
    it's a giant sim card?

    isn't all that possible with moving a sim card from phone to phone?

    do we really need the intermediate step? I know people who move their sim from a sleek 'heading out' to a pdaphone.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by netsavior ( 627338 )
      I move my SIM card from my Treo to a tiny flip phone a lot, because the Treo is crap for talking on the phone, and the flip phone is crap for everything else.
      • Ha ha, exactly my experience but with a pocket PC.
        It's sooooo nice to have to use two hands and a stylus to make phone call, especialy while riding a bike.

        Then if you actually press the thing to your ears (for blocking traffic noise etc.) you'll push one of the touchscreen buttons with your cheekbone and disconnect the call...Now that's what I call a good thorough design. Way to Go HTC !
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by ardyng ( 973980 )

      Actually, it appears to be a very basic phone unit, with the transmitter, antenna, etc, built in. Think of it like a cell phone PC Card [wikipedia.org] that can plug into a variety of host devices.

      Only real difference is it seems to have a base functionality without the host.

      • Think of it like a cell phone PC Card that can plug into a variety of host devices.

        I'm not sure where people got the idea that this phone-gadget was like an oversized SIM card. A SIM card is basically a low-capacity flash-memory card with keys for identity and encryption. This device is basically an entire cellphone, which I understand is functional all on its own at a basic level. The closest thing to this is the W-SIM card which is a SIM with a cellular transceiver welded to its back, but even that lac
        • by ardyng ( 973980 )
          I so want a modular version of this that'd plug in to my EEE PC. (Which I don't own yet, but... Soon. >;) ) I hate dragging more than one device around with me, but I think that the EEE with VOIP on it and a bluetooth headset is going to take care of 90% of my communication needs, and I may get a cheapy throwaway to forward stuff to during the few times I'm not in WIFI range either at work or at home. However, if I got one of these, I'd be very very happy. Buying more than one phone is wasteful when yo
    • Exactly. Their idea is a new bad(probably more expensive) way to do something already possible and easy to do.
      • Exactly. Their idea is a new bad(probably more expensive) way to do something already possible and easy to do.
        That's the brilliance. They are practically assured a Microsoft buyout. Well, if there's any cash left over after Yahoo, that is...
    • it's a giant sim card?

      My thoughts exactly. A SIM card with more capacity and more functionality would be just as good. The only thing the SIM really lacks is the ability to store music and pictures. I suppose you could just use an SD card for that.

      The only way I could see this being useful is because if you buy it you are stuck with proprietary technology and can't easily switch over to a different phone manufacturer. (useful for the company not the consumer)

    • by mea37 ( 1201159 ) on Thursday February 07, 2008 @03:59PM (#22338854)
      The two differences seem to be

      1) The base device can supposedly function "stand-alone"; however, it looks like it must be a pain to use in that way. Not sure the advantage of using it stand-alone...

      2) The base device brings more of the "common" functionality with it from jacket to jacket, so there's no need to buy that piece of the system over and over again.

      There's an intuitive feel that (2) creates an economic advantage, and I guess for someone who would otherwise buy multiple mobile devices there might be (depending on the actual pricing, factoring in bundling -- which seems to defeat the point, but whatever). Is it cost-advantageous if I only use it with one jacket? Two? Five? How many cell-based devices do I have to "need" before this becomes economically useful to me?

      That's my question, then: how much need does any given person have for a bunch of devices to which he or she can add cell phone capabilities? The car radio looking thing and the nav device might be interesting if they integrate the cell service in an interesting way, but couldn't you do the same thing wtih an inexpensive data cable to the phone (and maybe a car mounting kit, which you can easily get today)? The only particular advantage to building the devices this way (IMO) would be to leverage an already-existing deployment of Modu base units, and clearly there's not one.

      As for the hand-held sleeves, like one with a larger screen and QWERTY keyboard... maybe useful, but are there trade-offs (like is the combined device bulky or otherwise clumsy when compared to a stand-alone unit)?

      Then again, the fact that they lead with the example of a "stylish" cover you'd use to go clubbing probably indicates that I'm not the target audience, since I find that indescribaly stupid.
    • A sim card is merely a storage device. It has no standalone functionality. A modular phone is much more versatile. I would enjoy being able to attach my phone/portable 3G modem to my car stereo. Streaming internet radio, download some podcasts, then take a handsfree phone call. I get to work eject the device and pop it in my phone. There could be all sorts of possibilities. Whether anything useful or feasible could come from this is yet to be seen. But everyone should not be so quick to dismiss thi
  • I would love to have something like "transputer" - it would be CPU with huge memory (10GB+) and I could plug it into phone doc. paltop/GPS dock or PC dock (with extra powerful CPU) with large monitor or notebook dock. Have Linux everywhere, have similar environment everywhere ... Truly "transported computer". Same data, used in different ways...
  • A core phone should be as small and sexy as possible - like the iphone or razor (in its past life). Small is good while maintaining as much functionality as possible. This is clearly the trend. On this core device various extensibility options must exist. For example larger batteries, external keyboards, handfree kits, 'bling' headsets, cool cases etc. Again this trend already exists and is being built on various dock connectors, including usb, and wireless mechanisms like bluetooth.

    This Modu thing is just
  • Hmm (Score:3, Funny)

    by sskagent ( 1170913 ) <.blackspade01. .at. .gmail.com.> on Thursday February 07, 2008 @03:47PM (#22338572) Homepage

    .....you're going out clubbing....

    Unless 'going clubbing' means taking a +1 Club of Awesomeness, this particular example is worthless to the /. crowd.
  • Wouldn't it be easier to just move a SIM card to the current necessary device?
    • My sim card is under my battery, under the lid, under a really sturdy extra cover. I think this is just a bit easier.
  • Er... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by brunes69 ( 86786 ) <slashdot.keirstead@org> on Thursday February 07, 2008 @04:10PM (#22339076) Homepage
    I already have this. It's called a SIM card. If I am going out on the town and want to have a small compact phone I put my SIM in my Razr. If I am going to work or traveling and want a PDA I put it in my HTC Wizard.

    What is the benefit of this, other than the fact that they want me to likely spend as much on a "sleeve" as I do for a complete unlocked phone on eBay?
    • Re:Er... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by GlassHeart ( 579618 ) on Thursday February 07, 2008 @06:27PM (#22341402) Journal

      Many Slashdot readers do not understand that while convenience is a sliding scale, there are important thresholds along the way that enable (or disable) certain applications. For example, what you state is entirely correct: you can swap SIM cards around different devices.

      However, most people don't do that regularly, probably because you generally have to remove a battery to reveal the SIM slot and so on. The SIM is also not designed to be plugged and unplugged many times, so you may develop contact problems after a while. Finally, the SIMs that I'm familiar with can't generally store all the data (full contact information, email logs, browser bookmarks, etc.) that you want to take along with you.

      So, if the idea is to switch "sleeves" daily or more than daily, then the SIM solution is just not convenient enough. Not to say this Modu phone will solve it, but no, you don't already have this.

      • by LS ( 57954 )
        Sounds like you are proposing a simcard sleeve - a simcard inserted into a simple and small package that adds a rugged connector and some flash memory that can easily be switched from phone to phone. It's actually a great idea and likely hasn't already been developed because of current vendor lock-in policies.

  • Oh, like an iPAQ sleeve? The original Compaq iPAQs were the size of a smartphone, but had sleeves which could add a compact-flash socket, or GPS receiver, or PCMCIA slot, or dual PCMCIA slot, or dual CF slots. No reason why you couldn't have a very small cellphone, without camera, stereo speakers, flipphone, etc, and add those features via a sleeve.
  • So this is all neato and the capabilities at this point are only limited by your imagination.

    The thing that will be the deal-breaker is going to be the price. Having separate pieces will drive up the costs of the subassemblies, in turn driving up the price to the end user. And the majority of the market for cellphones is based primarily on price (hey sorry, the truth is that's what the majority of people do). And with the high price will come low volume/quantities which will exacerbate the cost problem
  • But is it interactive-odular?
  • Cell Phones in Disguise? Decellicons, transform!
  • Lots of people here denounce this technology because "we already have SIM cards." Therefore, no new technology must be developed? No alternative technologies in use in the world should see improvement?

    CDMA phone users don't care about SIM cards. If this technology were available on a CDMA phone, I could see it catching on. Especially since there is no good way to move data between CDMA phones and no standard across manufacturers.
  • by esper ( 11644 ) on Thursday February 07, 2008 @06:51PM (#22341818) Homepage
    OK, so "If, for example, you're going out clubbing, you can pop it into a fashion sleeve with a fancy design. If you're on a business trip and you need a phone with a Qwerty keypad and large screen, you just have to pop it into a 'jacket' with those features." makes it a "modular, Transformer-style phone".

    Does that mean that if I start out in my underwear (the "base unit") and then, if I'm going out clubbing, I put on some fashionable clothes, possibly incorporating fancy designs, then later go on a business trip wearing a suit and tie, plus maybe pop on a wristwatch for some extra functionality, does that make me a "modular, Transformer-style human"?
    • What if they made a product that instead was a PC-Card, that would then incorporate the basis unit and also work in a varity of "sleeves" that could be produced by third party companies? Then the same pc card (with sim card) could work in devices that already have a pc card slot (with appropiate software) aswell as in laptop computers aswell as in custom phone sleeves (that should be produceable by third-party companies) for the open standard that the PC-Card should support ? That would be some tech worth
    • by bkr1_2k ( 237627 )
      does that make me a "modular, Transformer-style human"?

      No, just a geek for considering the possibility.
  • Ericsson did this with their line of phones in the early 2000's. You could snap on an MP3 player, keyboard, and FM radio, or a bluetooth chip. Now however, except for the keyboard and in some models, the FM radio, everything has been integrated into the phone.
  • Sounds more like the Swatch watch [wikipedia.org] of phones, to me.

  • Modu's website [modumobile.com] - Featuring a 'stay tuned' footer and a promo video montage of disorienting close-ups! (click the "Modu It" button)

    The article that I got the link from also has a picture of their CEO showing off the base unit: Modu to launch tiny phone 'module' [komotv.com]
  • Why not just have a black-box "communcations device?" Something that can sit in your pocket, purse, backpack, whatever and just offer bluetooth services to a variety of devices. Have a handset if you want one, a graphical display if that suits you, or any other device that can communicate via bluetooth to your hidden communications device? Yea, you'd need to charge everything up separately, but so what? You'd get a hell of a lot more functionality out of the modular devices. And network flexibility

  • Get an iPhone and be done with it. Look shit.

  • I have one of those. It's called a SIM card.
  • With interchangeable cases for Nokias?
  • Is called Dov Moren http://www.eetimes.com/disruption/profiles/moran.jhtml [eetimes.com] who is the man behind, among other things, the Disk On Key.

    This has been his top secret project for the past 2.5 years. I think that there are great things to expect from it (and no, I do not work at Modu).
  • Cellular, modular, interactive-odular...
  • This phone will be a fantastic product, where people will be able to simply and easily link their mobile connection to all kinds of innovative products created by the community and the market! The wky is the limit!

    Unless for some reason they make all the standards for building the jackets proprietary and unavailable to the public... but a cell phone company would NEVER do that!
  • Here's great modu demonstration video, if you haven't seen it yet... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N-NAIA1iyCQ [youtube.com] It really needs to be seen to fully understand how small the device really is! Convergence is the future of mobile!

"Hey Ivan, check your six." -- Sidewinder missile jacket patch, showing a Sidewinder driving up the tail of a Russian Su-27