At an event, like MWC Barcelona, where phones with jaw-dropping specifications are being paraded left-right and center; it can be impossible, even for an established smartphone OEM like LG Electronics Inc. (KRX:066570), to hold onto one’s attention for more than a fleeting moment. This is why LG decided to step away from the rat race of hardware specifications and price battles for their latest flagship device, the LG G5. While the exterior of the device may look bland and unassuming at first, the G5’s claim to fame lie’s in it’s removable back module, or what LG calls the magic slot!
While modular smartphones have been teased for the better part of a year, Google seems to have gone quiet on the availability front. The modular smartphone space has seen many concept devices till date, but out of them the ones that have launched, have failed to make an impact even in the niche tech enthusiast market. LG will be the first major Android OEM to create a device with a semblance of modularity, and if initial reviews can be believed, the LG G5 has a tightly knit software and hardware ecosystem for its modular parts. Can this flagship from LG jumpstart a new era of modular smartphones? Stick with us as we delve deeper into LG’s tryst with modular magic!
LG G5: The Hardware Behind Magic Slots And Modularity
As the video above, has satiated your curiosity on the hardware front, we will now talk a little bit about LG’s magic slot and why the implementation of the modules seems to be the best take at modularity, that we have seen so far. But before we do that, let us quickly glance at the other innovative technologies that LG has managed to incorporate into their new flagship LG G5. While they might not be big enough to warrant a dedicated piece on them, they certainly warrant a mention for setting industry standards.
- Antennae lines in mobile devices with metal bodies has been a point of much-heated discussion and a visual eyesore for quite a while. LG has managed to change that with a new treatment process of the metal helps mobile signals penetrate the metal body of the smartphone thus, erasing antennae lines altogether.
- Courtesy of the magic slot module, LG has also managed to grab the honour of making the first metal device with a removable battery as well!
- While dual camera sensors have made their appearance on mobile devices in years flown by, LG’s implementation for getting a wide-angle shot at close range is unique and should provide much more real life functionality, than gimmicky depth sensors.
Now, turning the limelight back to the center of discussion, the modular pieces and their special connector, the magic slot. At launch, LG has unveiled two such modules, the first being an in-house developed camera module that comes with hardware control for the dual lens setup that we mentioned above and the other one being a DAC from Bang & Olufsen. LG has promised that there will be more third and first party modules to come in the future months, and the company hopes that the modular design encourages third party developers to develop specialized hardware for the device. And that is actually what the magic slot is all about, specializing the phone to a specific need. That becomes vitally important in today’s smartphone world, why, we’ll find out in the next segment.
LG: Powering The Future For Modular Mobile
For a better understanding of why LG’s product manages to stand out from the rest of the competition, we have to first take a quick glance at the players who have already released a device, or a working prototype in the modular smartphone ecosystem. The number stands at three with Project Ara and Google being the ones who have a working prototype and Puzzle Phone still stuck on the drawing boards. The third one is Fairphone, and they have a working phone released in the market, but the price and the lack of swappable modules at launch have decreased enthusiasm about the device quite a fair bit.
Now if we could quickly jot down the major reasons why none of these projects managed to hit the ground running, they would probably be:
- Overly Ambitious: All three players tried to provide a phone that was modular to the extent that they could be upgraded like a consumer PC. While that may be possible in the future, the current technology is not at that stage,yet.
- Price Point: The base unit or exoskeleton of the Project Ara device is supposed to ship at 50$ in the US. With such a low price point, the researcher does not have much wiggle room to include expensive components. The opposite happened to the users of the Fairphone whose relatively high pricing and lack of structure on the modularity front made people back away from adopting their device.
- Lack of public interest in the modular structure: Project Ara modules were definitely amazing in their potential and scope in the medical field but for the average consumer, the modules held no interest, and the decidedly mid-range offerings of the Fairphone made a lot of prospective buyers shy away.
LG has managed to solve all of these issues with the G5 and the Magic slot. With making just one part of the ecosystem modular, LG has been able to standardize the internals of the smartphone, thus providing a good overall experience and offering modularity as an added benefit for only those who want to customize or enhance the stock functionalities. They also packed modularity into their flagship product and with industry leading hardware, they have been able to garner public attention for the entire UX, rather than just relying on modularity as the only USP. But how does it help LG, other than setting a precedent for the mobile industry? As we round up our thoughts on this analysis, we take a look at LG’s side of the story in our closing segment.
Before we dive straight into the reasons as to why this choice from LG might have been a master stroke, we’d like to take a moment to applaud LG on their perfect timing. In early 2013, Project Ara had been begun in Google’s X Labs, marking the birth of modular smartphone. With the launch of the Fairphone, early adopters began to buy into the trend and thus, started the modular smartphone made the jump from innovators to early adopters.
However, soon the fledgling industry hit ‘The Chasm’, as Project Ara became delayed and many modular smartphone makers failed to deliver their products. LG took the opportunity and now, we are at the stage where after the initial hype has died down, people are more aware of the technical hurdles involved in getting the modular smartphone out of the pages of a sci-fi book and into the real life
Having said that, the G5 is not just a show of technical prowess by LG, but a signal of intent. We have listed a few points why the magic slot in the G5 can have far-reaching effects for LG for this fiscal year:
- With the magic slot, LG can now cater to audiophiles, photographers, adventure lovers and various other niches with just one flagship device. Unlike Samsung whose habit of making multiple devices has landed them in an economic pickle; LG can simply develop specialized modules to serve the needs of their customers!
- Hardware in mobiles has reached a point of saturation and with the addition of specialized hardware, comes specialized software implementations for the same and with a sleek and polished UI, LG could be able to lock the fickle Android user into their ecosystem.
With the G5, LG seems to have cracked the smartphone puzzle which appears to be plaguing Apple with its latest iPhone release. Even though it’s very early in the year, the G5 could help LG steal the crown for the best phone, once more, in 2016. LG has shown us once again that in the world of tech, often all that it takes is to take a small step towards a big dream to jump start a new revolution.