Google has been working on a modular phone concept called Project Ara since October 2013. Ara is modular phone hardware and the idea is to begin with a structural frame that the user plugs different smart modules into, such as display, keyboard or extra batteries. Users will then be able to replace broken modules or upgrade to better modules, providing a product that fits the individual’s design and requirements and potentially a longer-lived mobile phone.
Specialised modules such as medical devices, laser pointers, night vision sensors, pico projectors, game controllers or receipt printers could be added and modules can be hot-swapped in the phone without turning it off. Slots on the frame will accept any module of the same size. A small back-up battery allows the main battery to be swapped. Module enclosures are 3D printed so customers will be able to design their own individual enclosures and replace them.
Inspired by Phonebloks
The project was initiated by former Google-owned mobile manufacturer Motorola and inspired by the work of Phonebloks creator Dave Hakkens. Phonebloks is built around the concept of reducing waste in mobile technology and Project Ara is working closely with its project team to develop the phone. Alternative manufacturer designs are also springing up with the ZTE Mobius (right) and Xiaomi Magic Cube snatching a piece of the modular phone action.
When Google took over the Motorola brand in 2011 it paid (critics say overpaid) $12.5 billion. It sold for much less – $2.9 billion – to Chinese electronics giant Lenovo, but retained the company’s advanced technology group (ATAP), which includes Project Ara. Google has now revealed that there will be three developer conferences for Ara in 2014 to get people interested in making modules for the phone.
Project head Paul Eremenko says the goal is to sell the base Ara unit for as little as $50 to give people a way to buy the device and then add on cameras, extra RAM and other features without having to pay too much up front. Problems do potentially arise when it comes to repairing a phone that stops working as you would have to send it off to a diagnostic centre for mending, while a ‘new’ (actually a refurbished) unit would be sent out to you. More time consuming for company and customer, but less wasteful if it works efficiently.
A modular smart watch is set to follow (right) and it looks really neat and futuristic. All in all an interesting concept and one that would allow you to change your mobile device to suit your lifestyle and more urgent things like health status.