Google's Project Ara is far from being ready to ship, and the same goes for the Fonkraft and the Puzzlephone. This leaves anyone who wants to buy a modular smartphone with no option but to wait, and now we have a modular smartphone case with a similarly uncertain future.
The Nexpaq is a smartphone case which lets you swap out battery, camera, speaker, and other modules to add custom features to your smartphone. It's basically an aftermarket mod which turns either an iPhone 6 or a Samsung S6 Edge or Galaxy 5S into a Project Ara-like smartphone.
Its developers just launched a Kickstarter campaign today, and they are hoping to ship it early next year.
As you can see in the photo of the Samsung compatible case above, a Nexpaq has slots for up to 6 modules. It also packs in its own 1Ah battery and Bluetooth, enabling you to detach a case and continue to use it.
There are twelve modules under development. They're designed to be replaceable and interchangeable, and compatible with future devices. Assuming the Nexpaq gets funded and cases are produced for new smartphone models, you will be able to pull the modules from your current case and slot them into the new one.
- a microSD card slot,
- an LED flash,
- an amplified speaker,
- a laser pointer,
- a humidity and temperature sensor,
- a 64GB SSD,
- a second storage module with a USB thumb drive,
- two hardware buttons,
- a breathalyzer, and
- an air quality sensor.
That is a far shorter list of expected modules than we've been promised for Project Ara, but it does include a couple good ones. The hardware buttons, for example, are a module I would want to add to my case and or smartphone. I could place them in the exact place where they would work for me and then program them to fill specific needs. For me, that would be page turn buttons, but that is just one option.
You can find the Nexpaq on Kickstarter. The cheapest case goes for $89 to early backers, and is expected to ship in January (for $10 more you can get the beta release iPhone 6 case in November). It comes with 4 modules: speaker, battery, microSD slot, and hotkeys (plus a couple dummy modules to fill in the holes). The rest of the modules are going to be sold separately, with prices ranging from $14 to $29 a piece.
The developers are also offering an SDK in exchange for a $75 pledge, and a module developer kit which costs $275, $875, or $2,999. The higher price tiers get you more cases and modules, and they are all scheduled to ship in August 2015.
According to the Kickstarter campaign, Nexpaq has been under development since January 2013. The timeline shows that the first working prototypes were built in November 2013, with the first Android and iPhone prototypes ready last March.
The developers say that they've spent the past year improving and finalizing the design. They're now ready to put it into production and ship the first beta units in November.
If that ship date comes true then the Nexpaq could beat Project Ara to market. Google's modular smartphone is set for a limited beta release in Puerto Rico later this year (date unknown).
It's difficult to say which device will arrive first, but I do have a better feeling about the Nexpaq than the Fonkraft I wrote about yesterday. The Nexpaq looks to be much further along the development cycle and thus much closer to being released.