The LG G5 isn’t the first modular phone to come into existence, but it is one of the first to come to market. However, it’s going to take a little more than the ability to swap out battery packs to convince the average smartphone user to invest in a few extra accessories. So, LG is taking to the streets and calling on developers to help build a ecosystem around the G5’s modular abilities.
I had a quick chat with Dr. Ram-chan Woo, Vice President of Smartphone Product Planning at LG, about tonight’s developer conference for LG’s Friends in downtown San Francisco. We talked about what constitutes as a “Friend” for the G5, where this idea of modularity came from, and how long Dr. Woo’s been a fan of Android.
Greenbot: What’s the definition of a “Friend” for the G5?
Dr. Woo: We wanted to make it clear that Friends can be conceptual. The requirements are that they should be able to support easy pairing through Bluetooth and have a companion app.
Greenbot: What’s the difference between a module and a Friend?
Dr. Woo: The module is one archetype of the Friends…it is physically attached as part of the design of the main body. Other than that, we call everything else Friends.
Greenbot: Was it always the plan to bring in outside developers to help conjure up Friends?
Dr. Woo: It was always the plan. And fortunately, the market response of the G5 [has been] pretty hot—more than expected— so we’re having this event.
Greenbot: Is that the marketing message you’re going with? You want people to have “fun” with the G5?
Dr. Woo: We have carefully looked at who we are and who our internal developers are. For example, in LG’s Research and Development (R&D) team, we have more 6,000 developers here and, basically, they want something fun—something to play with. We looked at the market and there are developers out there who [also] want something fun. So [if we all sync together], then that’s the message of LG Play.
Greenbot: What do you want to see developers make with the SDK and HDKs?
Dr. Woo: As long as it’s something fun, that’s the direction. That’s it. And as long as it’s ethically right.
Greenbot: What are the requirements for modules?
Dr. Woo: The module must be a part of the phone design. We don’t want some slide-in module to make the phone look “geeky” or ugly. We really want to control the design [because] the performance or functionality of the phone can also be impacted by this slide in module. We are opening the HDK, but at the same time, carefully controlling the makers.
Greenbot: Where did this idea of modularity come from? Was it influenced at all by Google’s Project Ara?
Dr. Woo: It came from everywhere! We knew what Google was doing, and Project Ara influenced us, like 5 percent. But the module concept [has been in development] at LG for more than three years.
We’ve always been talking how we can take the battery out in a nice way without peeling off the back cover. At the same time, we wanted to make a phone out of metal. So, we figured out to upgrade it with hardware modules.
Greenbot: Do you think the G5’s modular abilities will resonate with consumers?
Dr. Woo: I hope so—as long as we have the right pricing and the right module. The right module can depend on country, too. Battery modules resonate [a lot] in the U.S. market.
Greenbot: How long have you been an Android user?
Dr. Woo: Since the HTC G1—with the keyboard!
Greenbot: What are you using these days?
Dr. Woo: I am using the G5 with the Bang & Olufsen attachment.
Greenbot: Which app is your favorite as of lately?
Dr. Woo: I personally like Google Photos a lot, and I’m really into YouTube recently.