When LG announced its new flagship smartphone, the G5, at Mobile World Congress, it did something radically different. At the base of the phone, LG built a small slot that might just change everything. Here's how the thing works:
This new slot gives LG the distinction of being the only all-metal smartphone with a removable battery — something that even its chief rivals, Samsung and Apple, have failed to achieve. But the slot also makes the G5 a first of something else, something much more exciting.
Entirely new gadget modules, like a camera grip or a hi-fi DAC can be inserted into the G5's battery slot, enabling the phone to do much more than browse Facebook and send emails. The result is what you could call a modular smartphone. Though it's not quite as crazy as Google's Project Ara prototype, it's still more futuristic than anything we've actually seen in the wild.
The idea of a modular smartphone has always been peculiar to me. Smartphones are a technology that clears away gadget clutter, and replaces all the tech we used to own: Mp3 players, point-and-shoot cameras, and pocket calculators were all rendered useless once we started carrying smartphones. So the idea of creating a Lego-like phone, which requires you to own lots of different modules and gadgets, always seemed counter-intuitive.
The delays that plagued Project Ara, Google's own approach to modular phones, left me feeling vindicated. This wasn't a future we were ready for just yet. But yesterday at Mobile World Congress, LG changed everything.
If Project Ara was an ambitious attempt to redefine the smartphone as a modular gadget, the G5 is a realistic leap towards that vision. LG seems to understand that its first two modules aren't going to set the world on fire. An LG spokesperson told me more accessories are coming, but the G5 will launch this spring with only a small pool of add-ons to choose from.
And that's totally fine. The LG G5 can still be a technical success so long as it gets people thinking that a smartphone can do more than browse the web and send emails. A phone that changes with you and your interests over time is an intriguing and powerful idea.
Of course, LG isn't doing all of this for altruistic reasons. Smartphone accessories have always been big business (just ask Apple), and if LG could stoke this tiny hardware flame into an all-consuming inferno, they'd be seeing dollar signs.
But the G5 isn't a revolution in itself. It's simply asking "what if?" and waiting to see what happens. The G5 is certainly the beginning of something different, but who knows if it's something anyone even wants.