Google's Project Ara isn't the only hope for phones with replaceable and upgradeable parts. Finland's Circular Devices is developing an alternative concept called the Puzzlephone, which breaks the handset down into three constituent elements. The phone's Spine provides the LCD, speakers and basic structure, its Heart contains the battery and secondary electronics, and its Brain has the processor and camera modules.
It's a simpler take on the modular device idea that stirred a lot of interest and support last year with Dave Hakkens' Phonebloks project, which gave rise to Project Ara. Smartphones are useful because they integrate a lot of functionality and hardware into one compact package, but that also leads to a lot of waste when any one part breaks down or needs to be upgraded. Should devices like the Puzzlephone or Ara ever take off, users would be able to swap out an aging processor or battery without sacrificing a perfectly good display and set of speakers.
Formally founded in September of this year and based in Espoo, the home of Nokia, the company behind the Puzzlephone has been working on the project since 2013 and is approaching the stage where it can produce working prototypes. Circular Devices plans to release the first Puzzlephone at a mid-range price in the second half of 2015, provided it can secure the funding and support to make it a reality. Focusing on setting open source standards, the company would use a forked version of Google's Android OS to start with, but will look to support other alternatives while defining a consistent hardware spec for third-party phone manufacturers. It's a very ambitious project that aims to make the mobile industry more sustainable over the long term. Whether it pans out successfully will depend on our appetite for modularity and upgradeability in our devices over more superficial factors like thinness.