Even as Circular Device’s PuzzlePhone looks to be falling short of its crowdfunding goal (it’s at 43% with just five days to go), the company announced that it’s launching a pilot program in 2016. Suddenly, the PuzzlePhone looks to be skewing towards business, industrial, health and other applications, as opposed to just average consumer uses.
The modular smartphone will be tested in the city of Oulu -- in Finland, where Circular Devices is based. The company did not specify when exactly this is happening, stating only that it will be “2016,” but according to the release notes, the location makes sense. Circular Devices said that it’s worked with multiple companies in Oulu on the PuzzlePhone already, including “development and manufacturing partners,” and it added that the “Oulu region is a key element in this effort as the powerful, and continuously working, talent pool and business expertise in the mobile field in this city is unbeatable.”
Apparently, the city government has created a friendly environment, as the city’s administrators will be among the first to test the PuzzlePhone in the wild.
One can also infer from the announcement that the PuzzlePhone may end up marketed as a device for businesses and for a number of professional applications. Any level of customization is certainly attractive to individual users, but there is a powerful pull for a device configured for a given profession.
On the surface, let’s say a company decides to issue PuzzlePhones to its employees. The PuzzlePhone is designed to be upgradable in pieces, so you don’t have to throw it out and acquire a whole new smartphone every year or two. (This is the same upgrade paradigm we see with PCs.) Ostensibly, this way a company could potentially save some money on hardware lifecycle management.
However, a more powerful use case could come from more custom modules that are germane to “emergency and public services, including healthcare.” This is where the PuzzleLab comes into play.
As part of the pilot program in Oulu, Circular Devices is launching a “PuzzleLab,” which sounds like an incubator. The market-speak from the press release reads:
"PuzzleLab is a program supporting individuals, startups and established companies in producing their own mobile hardware based dream solutions in the form of a PuzzlePhone module, in order to gain fast growth and product-to-market access for new mobile solutions. PuzzleLab will support the creation of custom PuzzlePhone Compatible modules for specific applications."
In other words, Circular Devices is gathering other companies to help develop modules for the PuzzlePhone in the Oulu region, which one contributor to the press release called the “Finnish Silicon Valley.”
A Promising Strategy
Where Project Ara seems to be struggling, the PuzzlePhone appears to be emerging. The lack of crowdfunding achievement is a big red flag, but Circular Device’s strategy of engaging other businesses -- and local/regional ones at that -- in its quest to develop a modular smartphone and an associated ecosystem of software and modules seems wise. Add the fact that the company looks to be pushing PuzzlePhone as a unique, purpose-built smartphone alternative in professional and industrial markets, and a picture emerges of a company that is starting to find itself and its purpose.
Seth Colaner is the News Director at Tom's Hardware. He curates and edits the news channel and also writes on a variety of topics. He would like a modular smartphone immediately, please. A mature ecosystem of modules would be a significant plus.