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The Rise Of Modular Design And What It Means For Tech

Posted In Technology Reviews - By Techtiplib on Thursday, May 18th, 2017 With No Comments »

There is a buzzword that is floating around a few industries at the moment, and that word is modular. Some industries have even gone as far as to actually implement it to perfection, adding a whole new selection of weapons to their arsenal. The most successful industry has been that of construction, where modular design has taken off quicker than Air Force One in an emergency situation (nerd fact: it can climb at over 7,000ft a minute).

Modular Design

There are plenty of examples of small modular homes cropping up, allowing people to get on the property ladder for a portion of the price of buying an existing home or building their own home. What’s more, they can control the design to a certain extent too. However, modular design has gone way further than just small homes for people with small budgets. Take New York City, for example, where a modular apartment complex was erected in under 20 days. It was like watching a huge Lego tower being constructed. Not only that but one that is incredibly stylish too. Chic and modern and an absolute testament to what modular design is and where it can go.

Quite simply put, the benefits of modular are incredible. It doesn’t matter what industry you are looking at, whether it is construction or wearable technology or smartphones; the benefits are incredible.

At the front end, you have accelerated design, which has always been an issue because it is the least automated part of any process. But not anymore. Now a design team can capture design components and building blocks and engineering needs for future projects, and that translates to lower costs for everyone. It reduces the need for rework and stops designers and developers having to work from scratch. It is faster and it uses fewer resources. Amazing.

Then you have the all-important matter of risk being reduced for more comprehensively. Anything that uses a common platform to estimate and design has the knock-on benefit of being able to mitigate risks better. That is what consistency offers. It allows you to reduce the risks associated at every stage, from design through to cost analysis, bidding through to delivery. Everything just becomes much more manageable because the amount of variables that need considering are dramatically decreased. We need to stress the word dramatically once again. Dramatically decreased.

But what does all this modular chitchat mean for technology? Well, not only will it make technology cheaper to purchase, or easier to personalize, it will also extend the lifespans of certain technology too. That is one of the most significant, important, attractive and, dare we say, necessary things the tech industry needs to factor in. The advancements at the moment make even the most state of the art tech obsolete. Make tech easier to stay with the times, though, and you are onto a winner. Of course, there are challenges, but that is the case with everything that tries to break the mold.

When we talk about extending the lifespan of technology, what we mean is this. Imagine you are wearing your smartwatch, and suddenly it vibrates, telling you it is moments away from running out of battery. Now imagine you can simply pop out a link and replace it with one that you had in your wallet. There is no running to the wall socket, cursing up to the high heavens that you are about to be disconnected from the world. You simply swap a piece of your tech. Thank you modular design.

But with modular devices being developed, this could mean anything gets swapped out and upgraded. It could be a new camera with so many megapixels it has better vision than a fly. Or it could be an upgraded battery that has more life in it than Wolverine. Maybe you could just swap the shell to customize your tech to your wants.

You may think we are a long way from this, but we aren’t. Okay, most phones glue in their batteries and that sort of thing. But Fairphone is making big movements in this field and Google is entering the arena too. Both of these already allow you to swap out certain components found in the endoskeleton. So, as we said, the future isn’t as far away as you may think on this front, and it will be here even sooner than you make think, especially with smartwatch brands like Blocks now making a presence; even managing to secure over $1.5 million dollars on Kickstarter as you can see for yourself, proving that the demand is out there.

The big question is, does this new trend in technology have the legs to go the distance? Based on the direction and ambitions of industry leaders currently operating in this realm, we certainly think so.

Modular homes and modular buildings are certainly only at the start of their journey; there are no two ways about this, not when you look at what it is offering people on that front. The same goes for the manufacturing game, which is also seeing huge steps taken in terms of modular. It is no longer a matter of one-size-fits-all equipment or seriously expensive bespoke equipment. It is now thriving off modular equipment like those found here, equipment that is able to be scaled to fit any environment. Car manufacturer’s, bike companies, household appliance businesses and much more are changing the equipment they buy, and this is going to encourage the technology industry to follow suit simply because it is what the consumer will want.

Let’s take the Block smartwatches we mentioned earlier. It is a complete offering.  It has an activity tracker, a decent battery, voice control, holistic feedback and more. But it also offers its users to add additional sensors to the strap, and for just $30 each as well. The chance to personalize is something they have embraced because they aren’t arrogant enough to think they know what each of the customers wants.

Acer is another brand that is investing in a modular future. They believe that modular design could throw a huge lifeline to desktop computers because they will increase the mobility allowed to them. It could be that you unplug the hard drive and use it as a music player. Perhaps you could remove your modular battery and use that as a portable means of charging other devices. The same principle goes with an in-built projector for presentations or anything else you can imagine. It sort of brings about this idea of scalability to help your devices meet your ever changing demands.

Nintendo has managed this already with the Switch, which is the latest piece of modular tech to flood the marketplace. It is a console that manages to be a portable gaming system, which could be the future. All you have to do is snap on a controller and you can pick it up and take it with you, wherever you are going. The controllers aren’t just for picking up and holding the device either, they can be removed and used as motion sensor controllers too. Then when you get home again, just slot it all back into the dock and it will play on the big screen. This is modular gaming at its best and could see Nintendo steal back some of that industry. It is a seriously cool piece of kit.

Of course, there are some skeptics out there, those that believe this need for mix-and-match modular technology isn’t being craved for. Nor will it ever be craved for. A lot even think that it is going against the grain when looking at the movements made by mobile tech over the past decade. They argue that manufacturers of tech have managed to make gadgets smaller and more reliable because they have removed moving parts from the equation. Batteries, hinges, sliding keyboards, and anything else you can think of.

This is probably why Apple has ignored this race altogether. In fact, they have come up with the most integrated technology ever designed, developed and sold, and they are the most successful company ever. They have dominated the smartphone and smartwatch arena, and none of their products use moving parts. What’s more, their success has sort of led others to follow suit, like sheep searching for greener grass. They probably won’t head this direction either for two main reasons; the bulk and the cost.

With modular devices, it is almost impossible to keep products both robust and reliable, while also keeping the size and cost down. It is just a tough business ask, as much as it is a design ask, and the Block watch has almost accepted this with their base price of $300. That only includes four modules too, with extras costing $30. This adds up very fast.

But, while it is anyone’s guess as to which way the industry will go, or who will embrace what, or what the consumer will wish for; we like the idea of modular technology making a stand. Betting against Apple is never a bold move to make, but the improving the lifespan of technology and heading in the same way as other modular advancements in other industries seems too irresistible.

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