Google subsidiary Motorola has revealed that it is working together with startup Phonebloks on a modular smartphone that could be dismantled by the user and put back together with different parts. Is this the future of smartphone design?
Project Ara, as the initiative is called, is a scheme designed to test the viability of the Phonebloks concept: "a free, open hardware platform." It uses the idea of the online app store, and applies it to the components of the phone itself. The Ara will have removable modules that allow users to customise, replace or upgrade parts of the phone without buying a new one.
Motorola claims it wants to give users to ability "to decide what your phone does, how it looks, where and what it's made of, how much it costs, and how long you'll keep it."
For instance, a user who wants to take high-quality photos on their phone could invest in a powerful camera module, while users who don't care so much could save the money.
Modules would be user-designed and peer-reviewed on the module store, so users would know which modules will work best for them.
The design for Project Ara is made up of what Motorola is calling an "endoskeleton (endo)" and the detachable modules. The "endo" is the structural frame that holds all the modules in place.
The possibilities for new modules range from "a new application processor to a new display or keyboard, an extra battery, a pulse oximeter - or something not yet thought of."
The Motorola Ara has been in development for a year already, but now the Google subsidiary is teaming up with the creator of the Phonebloks concept Dave Hakkens on the Ara project.
Some have questioned whether pricing the components by single module will actually work out cheaper for the average phone user. The original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) that supply smartphone makers build enormous quantities of cameras and batteries, for instance, and save money through economies of scale.
Still, offering users a more customisable experience could pay dividends in the long run.
Google acquired Motorola back in May 2012.