Back in September, a design student posted a design fiction video of Phonebloks, a modular phone platform. It got a lot of attention, but I counted myself among numerous skeptics of the design, given how much size and weight would be added and the unrealistic sizing of the imagined modules.
During October's Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven, I had the chance to chat with aforementioned student, who seemed more interested in his small-scale plastic recycling project. It did not take long to confirm that he was an "idea guy", not to be bothered with the realities of implementation; that's for the magician engineers to work out. My skepticism was confirmed.
But that same week, Google Motorola (no slouch of engineering) announced Project Ara, which is basically the same concept, and "partnered" with Phonebloks to share in the attention. Later, I learned that 3D Systems would be working with them to save space with multi-material, conductive printing. Google is keeping that project while they sell Motorola off to Lenovo. That seems to bolster their claims of shipping in 2015.
I still shudder at the visually realistic but engineering-ridiculous Phonebloks renderings, and admit being a curmudgeon about the attention they receive, but now my Dunning-Kruger alarm is tickled, and I am trying to keep my skepticism in check. As David Dunning would have it, "one should pause to worry about one’s own certainty."
(Full disclosure: 3D Systems is a client, but aside from some early clues about the Motorola relationship, I have had no inside knowledge of Ara.)