MHS - Module Handheld System

Design. It is not my strong suit, but I can tell when I do not like a design. I happened to be looking at old handheld things because of this post, and I was reminded of design ideals before the Jony Ive Age. Nothing against it, I can get why it appeals to people, but it doesn’t appeal to me.

I like design that is more like this:

It feels more substantial and rugged in my hand. If I drop it, it won’t instantly shatter. It feels durable. Modern smartphones and handheld gaming devices mostly feel fragile to me. A literal feeling, a response from holding a thing that is basically just a big screen.

I started thinking about designs I like, about user experiences I’ve found the most durable and ‘good’ feeling. (Again, totally subjective, but I think I am not alone in this sentiment)

This design really has stood the test of time:

It is rugged. You are using it in your hands and it feels solid. It has edges! You can touch parts and not smudge a screen. Also, it fits in this protective case that also lets you flip it around into a very robust device protection system.

Ok so I like that kind of design, how does that translate?

Into this:

Think a TI-86 calculator, but cut into pieces (modules). These modules snap together based on what you want to use, and you slide it into the sturdy case. When you’re not using it, pull your stack of modules out, flip it around, and you’ve got a very well protected device.

I was thinking USB-C (or maybe just USB, or something else) is the bit that snaps them all together. There would also be kind of “click-in” spots on every module so when you push it together it clicks and keeps it connected pretty well. But then, putting the stack into the case gives it that very sturdy structure.

The amount of modules that could be designed for this are endless. A gamepad, touchpad, module that is just a bunch of easy access ports to make this a decent desktop, dedicated big battery module, a screen/cpu that has e-ink, etc.

This could even be a good design for a open-source phone.

The idea is, the screen / CPU module is the ‘main’ part of the device. You can have it on, and hot swap / change the modules you’ve got plugged into the stack. Have a break? Cool, pull out your device, swap in the gamepad and do some gaming.

I am not certain of all the technical hurdles, but I think is this doable with today’s technology. I would use this every day.

I guess my question is, does this appeal to anyone else?

(Cross-posted on my blog: MHS - Module Handheld System)


I like the approach and agree with where your going, though im not sure if USB is well suited for this. USB is a strict client-host setup, and each module would have to basically implement a USB hub to provide the interface to the next machine down the train. Each step of the way dividing the bus bandwidth in half (possibly multiplying latency too im not sure on that point). Im also not sure what the USB-C spec has to say about drawing power from a client connection for the battery.

There are different buses though which might support this style of chaining though. So they could be used as alternates. USB though would be nice though in it has broad OS support if you wanted this to be OS neutral.

Another way to do this might be to give the modules some sort of spine to plug into. If USB was important enough to keep. Maybe unified with the outer shell?

Whatever the bus, I think it would be interesting to see if the pins could be broken out into something like an old style Apple mag-safe style connector? Mainly because ive seen so many bent USB connectors over the years, and that would protect from physical abuse more.

If you could standardize the sizing of the modules, keep them at fixed sizes, or multiples of a base size; I think it would be interesting to think of variations on the external shell which supported different form factors but supported the modules. Like one could imagine a hinged shell, that could lend itself to a Nintendo DS or GPD Win sort of configuration.

It would be interesting to me if the “main” module could be decomposed further into a LCD+Eom68 module or something similar. That way the motherboard could be replaceable independent of the screen. There has been some talk of a smaller EOMA68 like standard based around the compact flash form factor which might be ideal for embedded devices like this.

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Oh definitely, I agree. I have no exposure to other connection types, hence my fallback to USB.

I think standardizing the width and connectivity component is critical. Let’s let anyone make modules for this.

YES totally!

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In looking over the specs more of the Nokia 6820, the screen is color LCD 150x150 pixels. It was… fine. What could we do today with a color LCD ~300x300? Smaller, sometimes not even lit screen would do wonders for battery life.

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Oh yeah! I remember that!



Like… that is usable man!

If we make it just a smidge bigger to handle making it useful in a pinch for GPS-powered mapping… that could be awesome.

This is almost different from my MHS goals. Maybe it needs it’s own definition. Then with them both out here, we can see which has more merit.

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