2 min read

Ideas are Cheap – Build your mobile

It’s that time of the year when proto.in fever spreads. And the ideaworm has got to me.

Inspired by Vijay Anand’s “Ideas To Toss” series, I thought why not start my own occasional series as well? I’m calling it the “Ideas are Cheap” series. The name is a take on the common proverb “Ideas are Cheap. Execution is Everything.”

So here’s the idea for today:

Can we have a business where the users can customize the hardware that goes into their phone?

This is not a new idea. We are just applying Dell’s business model to mobile phones. If Dell can do it for desktops and laptops, why can’t it be done for mobile phones?

The customization can range from how much memory you want, whether you need a camera or not, etc. to choosing the color and the type of body (candybar or flip or other form factors) and so on.

The range of customization possible depends on the capabilities and costs involved in the assembly process. For example, users may be able to customize the phone by having a name for a special button called ‘Mom’ (or ‘Dad’ or ‘Son’ and so on) that is hotwired to call you. You can gift this to your corresponding loved ones. The advantage is it becomes a wonderful ‘personal’ phone and becomes easy-to-use for technophobic people.

The implementation will be challenging. For one, desktops and laptops can be assembled because of the plug-and-play IBM PC architecture as well as because the operating system easily adjusts to changes in the hardware. AFAIK, mobile phones are not built that way as of today and requires some configuration in the software based on which hardware features are present and which are not (please correct me if I am wrong). Making the software easily adaptable will be a major feature.

The other interesting part is to build a factory that facilitates this. It is very hard to build a supply-chain system for such a factory.

The good part is that the technology could be built on top of OpenMoko – after all, this is the kind of ideas that FIC (the sponsors of the OpenMoko project) had in mind in creating a mostly-open-hardware and open-source-software mobile computing project.

Personalization is one of the buzzwords that is supposed to make the big moolah for companies these days, and allowing people to customize a device that they carry around all day definitely has potential.

End credits: This idea was part of a random discussion between Ramjee and myself.

On a different tangent, there are lots of ideas waiting to happen in the software. For example, it’s not only Apple that can do an App Store for their phone, this can be done for this platform too. Of course, we’ll have to start off a holy war of choosing that one linux distro…

Perhaps similar ideas can be done on top of the Asus EEE PC as well?