After playing with the new Modu cellphone system, I'm impressed about how well their idea works. The core module integrates very well with the jackets, even if some were not operative. It feels very much like Apple's philosophy—allegedly one of Modu's role models. Could this idea work in the consumer electronics jungle? After seeing it in action, Modu may have a chance.
First of all, Modu will have to pull the support from service providers and third-parties. Right now it is getting it from Israel, where Modu hails from, and European companies like giant carrier Telecom Italia and GPS-maker Magellan.
Secondly, it's about the hardware. The product itself is almost there. The core module is very small and feels solid, with a simple domino-like user interface that is very easy to understand and use, with a micro-USB interface and a proprietary port on the bottom.
The current prototypes, however, only have two hours of talk time and three hours of music playback (with 72 hours' standby time). While very similar to other cellphones of this size, this is a design trade-off that, if not solved, may prove a challenge for Modu. The good thing is that the jackets have their own battery power, which is added to the battery of the core module. When the core module is inside a jacket you will, allegedly, have the typical battery life of whatever device Modu is impersonating at the time.
The tiny handset has a minimalist interface, is extremely light and responsive. The jackets, which have extra hardware and software to expand the phone's abilities, can convert it into a multimedia player, a big-screen PDA or gaming handheld, whatever you may think about. It can also add a personality to stand-alone devices. Their idea is that Modu will be the center of an inexpensive "gadget ecosystem," carrying your personality and data into both specialized and generic devices, like computers and TVs.
Think of it like a Nintendo cartridge, providing abilities and functions to the basic system. Instead of plugging into a console, however, it is the main system that gets inserted into the cartridge, a hardware envelope that may have bigger screens, different hardware input interfaces, extra storage, ports or any other features the hardware designers think about.
And these hardware envelopes are not just about functionality. Modu thinks that many consumers will be attracted to the idea of customizing their core modules with jackets that not only provide extra functionality but are also an aesthetic statement. Working with partners, Modu says there can be specially designed and branded jackets (think high-class fashion brands or sport teams) that will give users a way to customize their daily experience in any way they want.
The whole take-my-personal-data everywhere makes sense. It is, after all, what we are all doing on a daily basis with our regular phones and multimedia players. Apple has the same thing in mind with their home-to-go iPod patents—which have yet to arrive to an actual product—using the ubiquitous media player as a personal data pod that would allow you to bring your personal info, music, photos, favorites, hottest documents and passwords everywhere you go. Connect it to a computer and the computer will basically adopt your personality for as long as the pod is connected.
Modu wants the same thing—not centered around the computer but, rather, expanded into whatever device you may have on you. The difference between Modu and Apple, however, is that the Cupertino Massive already has its own ecosystem, which started with the Mac, followed with the iPod and, after the latter's raging success, spread through a multitude of devices that have iPod connectors.
In the case of Modu, we will have to wait to see who exactly joins the party and how the consumers respond.