30/04/2015 06:37 BST | Updated 29/06/2015 06:59 BST

Fonkraft Is a Crowdfunded, Modular Smartphone Taking On Project Ara

Despite a name that could belong to a Swedish EDM band, this modular smartphone from Fonkraft, currently seeking crowdfunding on Indiegogo, looks to give Google's long-awaited Project Ara device a run for its modules.

The idea behind modular smartphones is that, instead of buying a new handset every few years, you get a phone-shaped "endoskeleton" with spaces for component modules to slide into and start working together. Everything from the CPU, camera, speakers and even the screen can be removed and replaced like pieces of Lego. This means you can buy modules to tailor a phone to your needs and that, when something breaks or wears out, you need only replace the problematic module rather than buy a whole new blower.

Fonkraft Technologies launched an Indiegogo campaign for development of its Android-based modular smartphone concept on Monday and has already raised 43% its $50,000 goal at time of writing. Backers who donate $99 or more will receive a Fonkraft device and a particular set of modules to go with it, depending on the size of their contribution.

The cheapest, entry-level device is Fonkraft Pilot at $99 for backers (around £65) or $249 (£160) at retail and with a basic set of modules and an emphasis on battery life. Equipped with modules for a respectable 8MP rear-camera, 1GB of memory and a modest dual-core CPU clocked at 1.3GHz, this configuration is not going to be a gas guzzler. Plus, although the modular nature of the phone comes with some nasty power overheads, the primary 3100mAh battery module teamed with a bonus 1000mAh unit should outstrip the smaller battery cells of the current flagship smartphones.

Backers who donate $199 (£130) will have a choice of the Fonkraft Resolution or Fonkraft HiFi configurations. Both packages have souped-up specs over the Pilot with 2GB RAM and a 2.3GHz quad-core processor, as well as a tasty 64GB storage over the Pilot's meagre eight. The Resolution setup is aimed at smartphone photographers, replacing the bonus battery from the Pilot configuration with a 20MP camera module whilst the HiFi package is aimed at audiophiles with a wood-panelled module pumping out 192kHz of high-fidelity sound.

All of these are just starter kits, of course, since you can chop and change modules to suit your needs. To which end, backers who shell out $299 (just shy of £200) will get a Fonkraft Elements with all the modules they currently manufacture. Unfortunately, that just means you'll get the higher-spec core modules and the camera, extra battery and hi-fi modules thrown in. Since the Fonkraft device has 18 slots for modules and many take up more than one space, you'll have to put those Tetris skills to work to use more than one at a time.


Though the current crop of modules may not seem impressive, another cool thing about the modular smartphone idea is the use of an open hardware platform. This means that anyone with the means can manufacture and sell a compatible component module for the Fonkraft device. If the modular smartphone becomes popular, it could kick off a brand new sector of the hardware market with module makers competing to make higher-spec, low-price chips.

We were introduced to the notion of modular smartphones in 2013 when Motorola Mobility, then owned by Google, announced their collaboration with Phonebloks to turn their concept device into reality. After Motorola was sold to Lenovo last year, Google kept their hands on the ATAP group who had taken on "Project Ara". The prototype has had only a few outings though Google used DevCon2 - the second conference for Project Ara module developers - to flaunt the latest Spiral 2 prototype device back in February. A marketing pilot program is due to start in Puerto Rico later this year.

Meanwhile, Fonkraft plans to ship out the first pre-orders to backers in September.