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While Google's Ara Modular Phone Is Dead, Greybus Still Appears To Have A Future

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  • #11
    Originally posted by pal666 View Post
    modular desktops didn't die, so this is paranoia. phone died because it has shitty usability
    The effect might be indirect. If a throwaway phone design becomes more profitable, companies will invest more money on that. It's impossible to compete in a market where people don't want your phones and this might be due to bigger players having more resources to put on marketing. Network effects guarantee that the smaller players will lose. This happened to Nokia, Blackberry, Microsoft, and many others.

    I think the situation is overall worse now. Most phones now have builtin battery which is harder to replace. Soon they might lose the 3.5mm headphone connector. Many phones don't get any updates. For example the Android 4.4.x phones still only have 4.4.x support. One example of this here: http://www.banggood.com/Yotaphone-2-...p-1076214.html
    So the yotaphone company was able to push down the price over 75%, but couldn't provide a single update.

    A modular phone is totally against the idea of throwaway products. You'd just replace a $25 battery instead of $600 phone if the battery dies. You'd replace the $100 SoC if the old one becomes obsolete. That's a huge loss for the company. Why would anyone want to consider a business based on losing money?

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    • #12
      Originally posted by Adarion View Post
      A modular phone {...} would have been interesting
      And at the same time, you could buy an also modular, but shipping for real Fairphone 2.

      The small difference is that Fairphone2 is a little bit more simple that Ara (didn't invent a whole new protocol like Greybus, to be able to cobble together completely different blocks), instead it relies on modules with clear functions defined from the initial design.

      The big difference is that Fairphone2 is shipping NOW and is already in the pockets of lots of users.

      (and as a bonus, they are working on the possibility to run full GNU/Linux OSes like Sailfish OS and Ubuntu in addition to their Android port. There are community ports already)

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      • #13
        Originally posted by DrYak View Post
        And at the same time, you could buy an also modular, but shipping for real Fairphone 2.
        You are confusing the "serviceable" with "modular".

        Modular = is made up of modules that can be made by anyone without knowing anything about the end product, assembled in any way as long as there are slots, and will work regardless of what modules were in the original plan (within reason).

        Serviceable = the system is broken down in blocks that can be replaced with others of the same model/kind, but is otherwise unable to work with anything that wasn't in the original plan.

        Same differences that you find between a Desktop PC (made up of independent modules communicating over standard interfaces), and a laptop PC where most stuff is soldered or bolted on custom boards, and you can service it if you find another spare part of the same laptop model.

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        • #14
          Originally posted by caligula View Post
          So the yotaphone company was able to push down the price over 75%, but couldn't provide a single update.
          Because the updates come from the SoC manufacturer, not from the OEM. Embedded land is shit in this regard, the OS is hacked to work with the hardware to save development costs in proper drivers, this means that unless there are VERY good reasons (usually there aren't) none bothers to re-hack the OS again to provide an "update".

          A modular phone is totally against the idea of throwaway products. You'd just replace a $25 battery instead of $600 phone if the battery dies. You'd replace the $100 SoC if the old one becomes obsolete. That's a huge loss for the company. Why would anyone want to consider a business based on losing money?
          Ehm, who makes the modules anyway? Of course the modules price is going to be higher to compensate the modularity.

          Making modules allows pretty fucking large savings for a company tho, as the bigger product costs are in the design phases, and once you have designed a module you can just fab buttloads of them as long as there is demand.
          Think about basic modules like batteries or wireless connectivity modules (wifi/radio/bluetooth/nfc), or plain storage modules. With ONE module you cover ALL devices you will ever make.

          Also modules are much easier to sell in the long run than full-blown products, there is a large amount of unsold piece of shit mobile devices from like 2014 or even 2013 that won't be sold EVAR.

          It's just a matter of starting the wheel and the ecosystem. Google weaseled out for some reason, maybe they were just throwing a bait for the OEMs. Motorola seems to at least try doing something more modular.

          For desktop PCs this works 100% fine, and if you have followed that market, you can see it didn't see any kind of crisis (you still get tons and tons of different mobos, GPUs, processors, pcie boards with peripherals/ports/whatever, swarms of coolers air/water/both, fleets of cases of various shapes and sizes, and so on), while the OEM pc market is taking a large hit because its usebase is not buying new stuff or is buying mobile devices instead.

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          • #15
            Originally posted by starshipeleven View Post
            Because the updates come from the SoC manufacturer, not from the OEM. Embedded land is shit in this regard, the OS is hacked to work with the hardware to save development costs in proper drivers, this means that unless there are VERY good reasons (usually there aren't) none bothers to re-hack the OS again to provide an "update".

            Ehm, who makes the modules anyway? Of course the modules price is going to be higher to compensate the modularity.
            Sure, but I still think it's easier to be greedy with the whole phone approach. For instance an iPhone costs around $200-$250 to manufacture and the tax free retail price can be $800. Fixing even a simple hardware issue can cost a lot (for the customer) because the cost of buying a totally new phone is so high. The profit margins are huge. The Apple ecosystem is as anti-competitive as it can be before becoming illegal.

            Making modules allows pretty fucking large savings for a company tho, as the bigger product costs are in the design phases, and once you have designed a module you can just fab buttloads of them as long as there is demand.
            Think about basic modules like batteries or wireless connectivity modules (wifi/radio/bluetooth/nfc), or plain storage modules. With ONE module you cover ALL devices you will ever make.
            If you can make millions of mass produced modules, there will be a huge competition and nobody but the chinese 3rd parties will win that. World wide shipping < $3 and the price can be so low that you don't need to pay taxes or customs duties. A good example is the single board computer market. Xunlong's Orange Pi line is terribly cheap and the shipping costs minimal. You can buy 2-3 Orange Pis for the price of one Raspberry Pi 2 and they're even somewhat faster boards. Arduinos? Nano costs $1.50. ESP8266? < $2. Sensors and stuff? They're practically free.

            For desktop PCs this works 100% fine, and if you have followed that market, you can see it didn't see any kind of crisis (you still get tons and tons of different mobos, GPUs, processors, pcie boards with peripherals/ports/whatever, swarms of coolers air/water/both, fleets of cases of various shapes and sizes, and so on), while the OEM pc market is taking a large hit because its usebase is not buying new stuff or is buying mobile devices instead.
            The PC market isn't as modular as you might think. The motherboard is a great example. I really don't need a new Intel HD Audio chip, new gigabit lan, new crappy onboard wifi, fan PWM controllers, USB controllers, new power converters, ... with each new board. I only want a new CPU socket, a faster memory bus and a faster PCI-Express bus. I'd also want several sockets and more RAM sockets for each CPU, but I can't have them. The truth is, I need to buy this monolithic POS every time. It works for most, but it's one of the most expensive parts in a PC. A gaming mobo can cost over $200 and still 90% of the integrated stuff is the same for each board generation. Sure, there is some modularity, but most users don't buy a large set of extra cards, they just buy the basic set (mobo, CPU, memory, hard drive, and a GPU card). People are now buying smaller form factors like NUC, 5x5, ITX and mATX which shows that they don't value the modularity that much.

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            • #16
              Originally posted by caligula View Post
              Network effects guarantee that the smaller players will lose. This happened to Nokia, Blackberry, Microsoft, and many others.
              nokia was largest player and it lost due to elopocalypsis
              Originally posted by caligula View Post
              Most phones now have builtin battery which is harder to replace.
              it is not true. maybe by 'most phones' you mean apple
              Originally posted by caligula View Post
              Soon they might lose the 3.5mm headphone connector.
              but you should praise that. it is a modularity at its core. instead of some random builtin dac you could use usb dac of your choice with 3.5mm headphones or dac builtin into usb headphones with quality matching that of dynamics.
              Originally posted by caligula View Post
              Many phones don't get any updates.
              yes, and predominantly from small chinese brands
              Originally posted by caligula View Post
              For example the Android 4.4.x phones still only have 4.4.x support. One example of this here: http://www.banggood.com/Yotaphone-2-...p-1076214.html
              my android 4.3 phone was upgraded to 5.0 by vendor. for some models you could use aftermarket roms like cyanogenmod
              Originally posted by caligula View Post
              A modular phone is totally against the idea of throwaway products. You'd just replace a $25 battery instead of $600 phone if the battery dies. You'd replace the $100 SoC if the old one becomes obsolete. That's a huge loss for the company. Why would anyone want to consider a business based on losing money?
              well, you could replace even soldered batteries now, replacing socs requires compatibility and it does not come for free, so your phone will cost more in the first place, and guess how many people will buy more expensive phone on which they maybe could replace some thing which they have no idea what it is

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              • #17
                Originally posted by caligula View Post
                Sure, but I still think it's easier to be greedy with the whole phone approach.
                They can be as greedy as they want with modules too. Just look at total bullshit "gaming" parts for PCs with lights and shit.

                The Apple ecosystem is as anti-competitive as it can be before becoming illegal.
                Hahahahahahahaha no.
                They are just one of many OEMs making yet another crappy embedded device with planned obsolescence, they just slap a high price because of marketing reasons (gives the sense of luxury), and because they can (most idiots buy it anyway).
                Nothing illegal in that.

                If you can make millions of mass produced modules, there will be a huge competition and nobody but the chinese 3rd parties will win that.
                This isn't any different than with smartphones or anything else.
                Are chinese manufacturers stealing market from usual OEMs that sell stuff here in first world countries? No. Because people still prefers known brands, either because quality or because brand fidelity.

                That said, a Sony camera module with more quality lenses will still beat the crap out of anything from China.

                A good example is the single board computer market. Xunlong's Orange Pi line is terribly cheap and the shipping costs minimal. You can buy 2-3 Orange Pis for the price of one Raspberry Pi 2 and they're even somewhat faster boards.
                Is Raspi foundation hurt by this? nope. Shipments of Raspi are still ridicolously huge.
                Arduinos? Nano costs $1.50. ESP8266? < $2. Sensors and stuff? They're practically free.
                Same as above.

                The PC market isn't as modular as you might think. The motherboard is a great example. I really don't need a new Intel HD Audio chip, new gigabit lan, new crappy onboard wifi, fan PWM controllers, USB controllers, new power converters, ... with each new board.
                Lol? Intel HD is in the chipset, fan pwm controllers are hardware-specific, USB are in the chipset, power converters are hardware-specific.
                Also Sata is in the chipset.
                The Gigabit lan added like that is near free and better as it is connected to a special chipset interface and not a pcie lane, and most people need it anyway.
                Also the audio is usually bolted on a dedicated chipset interface, "intel HD audio" usually offloads to some realtek integrated crap.

                Onboard wifi is just a minipcie slot with a laptop card in it, hardly integrated waah waah waah worthy.

                I only want a new CPU socket, a faster memory bus and a faster PCI-Express bus.
                It's cheaper this way, you believe it or not.
                I'd also want several sockets and more RAM sockets for each CPU, but I can't have them.
                Sure you can have them if you buy server parts, server CPUs have also the controllers to be run in a multi-CPU system. Consumer CPUs can't be run in a multi-cpu system as they lack the controllers to do so.

                The truth is, I need to buy this monolithic POS every time. It works for most, but it's one of the most expensive parts in a PC. A gaming mobo can cost over $200 and still 90% of the integrated stuff is the same for each board generation.
                Fun fact: most of the cost comes from the chipset and the engineering time needed to design the board itself around it, and also to develop the new bios for it.
                Hardware costs are irrelevant.

                Also, gaming boards aren't anywhere near necessary for gaming, or for anything really.

                Sure, there is some modularity, but most users don't buy a large set of extra cards, they just buy the basic set (mobo, CPU, memory, hard drive, and a GPU card). People are now buying smaller form factors like NUC, 5x5, ITX and mATX which shows that they don't value the modularity that much.
                They value modularity where it makes sense for their device/form-factor.
                Like say they don't have soldered RAM, or they don't have a soldered CPU (apart from a few boards), or they can add a more powerful GPU, or they can add some additional cards, or they can add a wifi card, or they can add sata or pcie storage devices.

                Full ATX is dying mostly because the main reason for atx was that back then you had 3-4 slots always in use just to have a functional PC as the board was providing jackshit on its own, now most of that boilerplate is integrated in the chipset or CPU or the board and you only need a slot for GPU and a few others for the few odd cards you might want.

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                • #18
                  Originally posted by starshipeleven View Post
                  Same differences that you find between a Desktop PC (made up of independent modules communicating over standard interfaces), and a laptop PC where most stuff is soldered or bolted on custom boards, and you can service it if you find another spare part of the same laptop model.
                  First and foremost : Smartphone have physical space constrain that you don't have on a desktop PC.
                  You can (and some hardcore gamers and scientists do) put 4 graphics cards in the same chassis if that rocks your boat.

                  You cannot physically cram 3 screens in a smartphone, without resorting to bizarre contraption that discard the "phone" part of it, and err on the side of "smartpurse"/"smartbackpack" with a side dish of "octopus of wire". (Even though, purely in theory, that's exactly what the Greybus is supposed to bring you: total freedom to link anything together as you wish, from any vendor as long they follow the Greybus standard).

                  At most, the freedom you can reach is having a base phone and swapping a couple of small post-stamp sized modules (e.g.: put 2 cameras for stereo, remove them for a work place that forbids pictures, add an extra module for wireless connectivity to control ZigBee devices, add an optional support for NFC, DAB+/FM-RDS radio, FM car audio emitter, TV (DVB) receiver, etc. or remove both post-stamp sized module to free space for a larger battery) But the physical limits of your phone will prevent you from true desktop-level modularity.

                  From that point of view the laptop metaphore is a better description except not Apple nor IBM/Lenovo laptops*, but your garden variety "Enterprise" laptops. Even if some key part (motherboard, psu) are vendor specific, these laptop come with a bunch of connectivity options (full blown SATA ports, miniPCIe cards, mSATA cards, and even MXM PCIe GPUs for some laptops, etc.) where you can plug anything from any vendor, as long as it follows the specs of above mentionned protocols and fits within the allotted space. Google phone are metaphorically similar, except they use a single universal Greybus for that. And Fairphone are literally the same. (and in a way the Jolla 1 phone too).

                  If you pay attention, even if they don't use a signle universal bus, all the various parts of the Fairphone 2 are spec'ed and documented. Both the connectors and the physical space (you could find 3D Printer STLs), you're just a lot limited by space for most piece, except the back cover (has pogo-pins carrying USB, can be extended to any thickness).
                  If you reduce the number of modules to "just one", that is also what Jolla's "Other Half" concept was entirely about : a very precisely spec'ed back cover (STL files avaiable at various places on github) with signals (wired: pogo-pins for I2C, IRQ, +5v charging. wireless: NFC. mechanical: presence detection switch).
                  Thanks to above you can actually find hardware designed by 3rd party on the web (Dirk Van Leersum has produced quite some: e.g.: physicall snap-on keyboard, disco lights, etc.).
                  (And once upon a time, the OpenMoko was also featuring some available hacking possibility, and even a little bit free space to accomodate some projects).
                  Though again, special care must be given to space. Due to the extreme small room provided by smartphone if you want to attach anything crazy (basically anything thicker than a wireless charger) you'll need a custom case that needs to be custom build to the open specs of the phone you target.

                  Again these limitations have a lot more in common with the form factor (hard to beat a spacious "Extended ATX plus" case) than any standard (thought the kind of "every module must be an integer multiple of a 2x2 lego brick" approach of some "planned but still not released phone" could make it a bit easier. Except none of these phone got released yet).

                  So yeah, they are not as highly modular to "bricks of lego stuck together" levels, but you can still hack them a lot (and lots of people actually *DO*), and they do (or did) exist in the wild.

                  ----

                  * exception :
                  - Apple are the kind of madness where nearly everything is soldered. You basically have a motherboard, an SSD, a keyboard and a battery. And can only individually replace those. And only the SSD has some standard making it possible to replace with any 3rd party.
                  - Lenovo are a bit mixed bag. The internals (motherboard, keyboard) are more or less standardized, you can actually swap them even between different models.
                  On the other hand, all the "standard" connectors are somewhat crippled: they follow standards but you cannot swap parts with any 3rd party that follows the standards, the BIOS only allows a limited whitelist of parts produced by Lenovo. Any 3rd party are rejected.


                  Originally posted by pal666 View Post
                  but you should praise that. it is a modularity at its core. instead of some random builtin dac you could use usb dac of your choice with 3.5mm headphones or dac builtin into usb headphones with quality matching that of dynamics.
                  The problem is that currently, on the iPhone there only 1 single port available for everything.

                  With the imaginary "every module is a lego brick" approach of the not-yet-on-the-market-phones: Yes, that would be great. Have one of the optionnal post-stamp module be a cheap chinese dac.
                  And have Beats and Monster sell 3rd party "audiophile" DACs. More expensive than the default option. Also bigger, taking twice the space (2x4 brick / 2 post-stamps). Containing the same cheap chinese dac, and some extra metal crap for added weight.


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                  • #19
                    Originally posted by DrYak View Post
                    The problem is that currently, on the iPhone there only 1 single port available for everything.
                    i'm more worried by the problem that someone cares about iphone
                    on topic, usb developers predicted that and introduced hubs

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                    • #20
                      Originally posted by DrYak View Post
                      First and foremost : Smartphone have physical space constrain that you don't have on a desktop PC.
                      Irrelevant to my point. Space isn't the main difference between modular and serviceable. I'm a goddamn certified technician, I know the difference.

                      At most, the freedom you can reach is having a base phone and swapping a couple of small post-stamp sized modules
                      Bullshit. Ara was supposed to fit stuff on a standardized chassis that was only providing electrical contacts and a communication hub.
                      As long as you have electrical contacts for modules and the communication hub (and the chassis to make a solid device) you can connect whatever.

                      This because it is a MODULAR design. Can you add multiple screens, cameras, mics, storage, batteries on the Fairphone 2? NO, because it is a SERVICEABLE design. TWO DIFFERENT THINGS.

                      They also state it clearly, they made a device that can be REPAIRED so you don't have to throw away everything when something breaks.

                      If you pay attention, even if they don't use a signle universal bus, all the various parts of the Fairphone 2 are spec'ed and documented.
                      Irrelevant, it's not designed to add modules that weren't planned for at the design stage, it's only designed to let me replace components.

                      You can only add stuff that does not require additional drivers or connects to standard interfaces, and this limits the modules by a lot (unless I have full sources and also am a firmware developer with some spare time to add stuff and recompile)

                      You can hack around the Fairphone the same as you can hack around a laptop PC, by using its internal interfaces to do different things, but that's a hack, and the laptop PC runs an OS, not a firmware, so you can install drivers easily.

                      Again these limitations have a lot more in common with the form factor (hard to beat a spacious "Extended ATX plus" case) than any standard (thought the kind of "every module must be an integer multiple of a 2x2 lego brick" approach of some "planned but still not released phone" could make it a bit easier. Except none of these phone got released yet).
                      Bullshit again, space is irrelevant here.
                      I'm arguing principles, Fairphone is NOT modular, it's just a normal smartphone using normal interfaces that happens to not solder the whole damn thing down, and provides docs.

                      So yeah, they are not as highly modular to "bricks of lego stuck together" levels, but you can still hack them a lot (and lots of people actually *DO*), and they do (or did) exist in the wild.
                      Yes, Point is, I don't want to hack serviceable stuff that at the end of the day is still closed down as fuck (is it receiving Android 7? No? Then nopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenopenope), I want to build a modular thing that is plug-and-play.

                      Meanwhile, I stay with whatever embedded device has full sources out and can receive new Android versions through Cyanogenmod.

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