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商业 - 科技

装电脑如同拼积木:模块化技术是下一波IT潮流吗?

Don Reisinger 2015年10月12日

宏基Revo Build系列让装电脑像拼积木一样简单。这种模块化产品的出现,使消费者可以快捷地升级机器,而不用购买全套昂贵的新设备。

    DIY定制有可能成为消费科技界的下一个大事件吗?

    就在柏林国际电子消费品展览会开幕之前,宏基公司最近发布了一款名为“Revo Build系列”的新型“模块化”个人电脑。这种PC允许消费者像拼装乐高积木一样组装自己的台式电脑。

    只需把预制好的“积木”一块块地垒起来,消费者就能轻松组装出一台自己的电脑。位于最下面的是电脑核心组件,包括8GB的RAM、SD卡槽、显示端口和以太网等等,消费者只要花几秒钟把一块硬盘“积木”放在它上面,一台主机就这样“攒”成了。

    如果用户想添加扬声器或麦克风等功能,只要在上面再垒一块音频“积木”就可轻松搞定。用户也可以再往上垒一块用于无线充电的“积木”。这些积木可以继续垂直堆叠,最后看起来就像用乐高积木堆起来的一座小楼一样。

    宏基Revo Build系列个人电脑是时下正流行的“模块化”产品的一种。这种模块化产品的出现,使消费者可以快捷地升级机器,而不用购买全套昂贵的新设备。

    模块化设计思路在制造业中早已屡见不鲜。无论是汽车、电脑还是其它产品的制造,总是离不了大量标准化部件。但消费者却从未如此大范围地享受模块化的好处。以前要想升级一台电脑的话,要由一名专业的技术人员打开机箱,用可兼容的备件替换需要升级的零件,这个过程可能要花费几小时之久。

    由于这番工序非常复杂,加上往往还会出现这样那样的问题,致使很多人觉得升级硬件的风险太高了。因此,买到新的就扔掉旧的逐渐成为一种风尚,喜新厌旧成了主流。不得不说,正是这种懒于升级现有硬件的消费习惯,才为科技界的发展提供了不竭动力,使各大科技公司能够定期推出新产品。

    尽管如此,模块化的发展趋势依然没有中断,走在最前面的正是科技巨头谷歌公司。2014年,谷歌以29亿美元的价格将摩托罗拉卖给了联想,但该公司设法保留了一项叫做Project Ara的技术。

    Project Ara首先由摩托罗拉于2013年推出,该项目致力于研发一种模块化智能手机,使用户可以轻松地更换摄像头等部件。这样一来,消费者如果购买了一台Ara设备,就可以选择他们自己想要的部件安装到手机里,用了一段时间后,也随时可以购买新部件来取代旧部件。也就是说,消费者手里使用的始终是同一台设备,由于它使用了标准化输入,包括谷歌在内的任何一家公司都可以设计能插入智能手机的部件。

    Project Ara的系统工艺负责人拉法·卡玛尔戈告诉《财富》:“Project Ara旨在构建一个像软件生态系统一样开放、模块化的移动硬件生态系统。它有助于开发者更快地将技术研发成果投放市场。另外,这个平台和它的广大合作伙伴也能为全球用户提供新的选择和可能。”

    这样一个生态系统将在相当程度上促进整个行业的变革。如今,很多公司都在花大量时间从内到外构建整个产品,但如果一个模块化的生态系统能够发展起来,很多公司就会集中精力研发可插入到设备上的小型平价零部件。这样一来,它们的成本会有所降低,消费者也可以从自己选择的公司那里购买最心仪的功能。

    Phonebloks是另一家希望整个行业尽早接受模块化产品的公司。该公司称,其目标是最终减少电子产品的浪费,在科技业中培养一种让用户对设备有更多控制权的环境。

    Phonebloks公司技术总监盖文·达珀尔对《财富》表示:“模块化能够给人们选择的机会,并延长产品的生命周期,从而减少电子浪费。如果执行得比较好,它还能让用户选择自己的个人配置。如果使用了开放标准,它还能使人们更容易接触到创新成果。”

    模块化也能为儿童开启一个新世界。比如一家名叫One Education的小型社会企业正在研发一种名叫Infinity的模块化电脑,孩子们可以轻松地将一块触屏平板电脑变成一台笔记本电脑,也可以便捷地添加摄像头功能(以及其它核心组件)。该公司已经启动了一项计划,旨在帮助包括发达国家和发展中国家在内的各国儿童获得接触科技的机会。

    One Education的官网称:“我们的任务不是为股东赚更多的收益,我们也没有股东。我们的任务是在数码鸿沟出现之前,就阻止它形成。”它所说的“数码鸿沟”指的是各国人民接触科技的机会不均等。“这就是我们为什么要研制一种通用型电脑。每销售一台Infinity电脑和模块,都可以为Infinity电脑进入那些没有电脑的学校和社区做出贡献。”

    然而电子设备模块化并不必然会取得成功。况且目前Project Ara和宏基Revo Build系列都未上市。横亘在两家公司面前的,还有整个行业根深蒂固的传统:即由企业来决定一个产品用什么元件,而消费者只有极少的控制权。

    但这并不意味着谷歌等企业没有继续探索。实际上,谷歌对模块化的期望很高。

    谷歌在Project Ara的网站上指出:“智能手机是我们生活中能力最强大、也是和我们联系最紧密的物品。但至于它是怎样生产出来的,它能干什么,长什么样子,我们大多数人对此是没有发言权的。而且目前全球还有50亿人没有智能手机。如果你能根据自己的愿望,选择自己的手机具备哪些功能,让它像一张创意画布一样讲述你自己的故事,是不是很美妙?我们推出的Project Ara,就是要为60亿人提供个性化的设计。”(财富中文网)

译者:朴成奎

审校:任文科

    Is DIY customization the next big thing in the consumer tech world?

    Ahead of the IFA consumer electronics confab in Berlin, Acer recently announced a new “modular” PC, called the Revo Build Series. The PC lets consumers build their own desktop computer LEGO-style.

    Consumers can build their own computer by stacking pre-made “blocks” one on top of another. In a matter of seconds, consumers can swap out a hard drive for a storage block by simply placing it on top of the computer’s core block, which includes 8GB of RAM, SD card slot, DisplayPort and Ethernet.

    For example, users can add features like speakers and microphones to their computer by stacking an audio block on top of the computer’s base, while another separate block would allow wireless charging. The blocks would continued to be stacked vertically and, in the end, appear just like a toy Lego tower.

    The Acer Revo Build Series is part of a growing trend of “modular” products that offer gadget owners the ability to quickly upgrade their machines without having to buy new expensive devices.

    Modularity is commonplace in manufacturing where standard components are used to build vehicles and PCs, among other products. However, modularity has never been offered to consumers on such a major scale. Historically, in order to upgrade a computer, tech experts would need to break open a PC and swap out its parts with compatible supplies, which could take hours.

    The complexity of the job and the potential pitfalls left many determining that the risk was too high. Instead, a culture of throwing out old machines and buying new, upgraded alternatives has become the norm. Indeed, the upgrade lifecycle has proven to be the lifeblood of the technology industry, allowing companies to sell new products on a regular basis.

    Despite that, the modularity trend continues to march forward and tech giant Google is leading the charge.

    When Google sold Motorola to Lenovo in 2014 for $2.9 billion, the company negotiated a deal to keep a technology called Project Ara within its ranks.

    Project Ara, which was first unveiled by Motorola in 2013, hopes to create a modular smartphone that allows users to quickly swap out components, like a camera, with ease. Consumers would buy a Project Ara device and pick and choose the components they want included in their phone. They can then also buy new components to replace old ones at a later date and time. All the while keeping the same device and using a standardized input that would allow any company—not just Google—to design components that plug into the smartphone.

    “Project Ara seeks to create an open, modular, mobile hardware ecosystem much like the software ecosystem,” Rafa Camargo, systems engineering lead for Project Ara, told Fortune. “Such an advance would allow developers to bring their technological developments to market faster. Together, the platform and partners would create new choices and possibilities for users worldwide.”

    Such an ecosystem could dramatically change the industry. Today, many companies spend a lot of time building entire products, but if a new, modular ecosystem develops, many firms could instead focus on building smaller, less expensive components that could be plugged into a device. Their costs would be lower and consumers would pick the features they want most from the companies of their choosing.

    Phonebloks is another company that is hoping to see the industry embrace modular products. The organization says its goal is to ultimately reduce electronic waste and foster an environment in the technology industry that allows for more user control over devices.

    “Modular has the potential to give the opportunity of choice to the people and enables for longer product life cycles, thereby reducing (electronic) waste,” Gawin Dapper, chief technology officer at Phonebloks, toldFortune. “When executed well, it also lets users choose their personal configuration and when using open standards, it also makes innovation more approachable.”

    Modularity could also open a new world for children. One Education, a small social enterprise is building a modular computer called Infinity that makes it easy for children to turn a touch screen tablet into a notebook, as well as add camera functionality (and other core components). The organization says it has also initiated a program to help children access technology both in developed countries and emerging markets.

    “Our mission is not to bolster returns to shareholders, we have none. Our mission is to prevent the digital divide before it forms,” the organization says on its website, referring to inequality in access to technology between countries. “That’s why we created a computer that is universal. Every Infinity and module sale contributes to the distribution of Infinity computers to schools and communities around the world who would otherwise go without.”

    Still, modularity success isn’t guaranteed and neither Project Ara nor the Acer Revo Build Series has launched just yet. Both companies are also competing against a technology industry that has long clung to the idea of companies deciding a product’s components, leaving consumers with little control.

    However that doesn’t mean Google and the others aren’t trying. Indeed, Google is aiming high with modularity.

    “The smartphone is one of the most empowering and intimate objects in our lives. Yet most of us have little say in how the device is made, what it does, and how it looks, and 5 billion of us don’t have one,” Google says on its Project Ara website. “What if you could make thoughtful choices about exactly what your phone does, and use it as a creative canvas to tell your own story? Introducing Project Ara. Designed exclusively for 6 billion people.”

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