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Project Ara: Motorola’s plan to build modular smartphones

Motorola recently revealed Project Ara, an open-source hardware platform for creating custom modular smartphones. Motorola wants to do for hardware ‘what the Android platform has done for software’ in order to give consumers the power to decide ‘what their phone does, how it looks, where and what it’s made of, how much it costs and how long it lasts for’.

We’re really interested to see how Project Ara progresses but it seems at the moment, there are just too many reasons for this not to work. We’ll be watching this very closely!Motorola recently revealed Project Ara, an open-source hardware platform for creating custom modular smartphones. Motorola wants to do for hardware ‘what the Android platform has done for software’ in order to give consumers the power to decide ‘what their phone does, how it looks, where and what it’s made of, how much it costs and how long it lasts for’.
Motorola has teamed up with Phonebloks, another company who recently showed off a similar idea for modular smartphones. According to their blog, Motorola is planning on sending out invites to developers to start creating modules for the Ara platform as early as this winter.
Project Ara aims to create a more sustainable smartphone by building mobile devices that don’t have to be discarded as soon as a new device comes out. It seems the aim of Project Ara is to create a more democratic ecosystem for smartphones in which consumers can completely customise their device; from the processor and camera, right through to the battery and display. This will hopefully allow consumers to keep their phone for a much longer period of time.
Here’s what some of us at Mubaloo think of the project:

“It’s all going modular – we’re seeing this within the software, where companies are looking to further their investment & build in a manner that is more scalable, adaptable & fit for purpose. It is a natural progression to now see this within the hardware. Common capabilities will be complemented by tools & gadgets that directly fit with an individual’s profile or role.”  Gemma Coles, Director of Mobile Strategy

“I think it’s an interesting concept, but I also think, if it even gets off the ground, it would be catering for a pretty small niche market. I also think the concept is fundamentally flawed – by opening up and modularising the hardware to such an extent, you are introducing more potential points of failure.
In addition to this, I can see it being a bit of a nightmare from a development point of view. Already Android suffers from issues arising from OS/device fragmentation and I can only see this being massively amplified by modular hardware. I’m assuming there would need to be massive changes to the Android SDK (I’m guessing these would run Android, since Google acquired Motorola Mobility) in order to cater for the myriad of configuration options that would become possible. Developers would need to build apps that would run well on potentially thousands (or more?) of different device configurations – this would also make QA testing a much more complex and costly process.” Olly Berry, Head of iOS
“I agree with Olly’s comment on the project only attracting a small niche market. The majority of laptop/computer users probably don’t fiddle around with the hardware on their device and I think this will be the same for smartphone users – most people are happy with an out of the box solution, unless they have a strong interest and understand the technicalities of some of the processes in building hardware.
Having said that the money saving side could really appeal to consumers – only having to replace a certain component of a device, rather than the device as a whole may really appeal to some. It’ll be interesting to see what comes next.” Eli Newman, Creative Director
“I think it’s pretty niche, and can see it being a fragmentation nightmare. Also, when you’re buying an entire device there are going to only be a few ‘optimal’ configurations – for example a phone with the best camera, best processor, best screen, or a cheaper one with an average camera, average processor, average screen. Why not just sell 2 or 3 different models of phone like everyone currently is?
The main advantage seems to be being able to only upgrade a specific part . But I would imagine that the people this sort of device will appeal to will be the sort of people who always want the latest and greatest handset – in which case, they’d probably want to upgrade everything at once anyway!” James Frost, iOS Developer

This is why, in my opinion, Macs have always been better than Windows machines. With Macs, all of the software can be tailored to the hardware it is running on, whereas with Windows, in some cases an OS has to cope with different kinds of hardware attached to it, making it less smooth. Same goes for iOS.” Ben Reed, Head of Technology

“I personally don’t think modular smartphones are going to work well, for the reasons already mentioned. A lot of people would rather be told what they should own. On the plus side, I do like the sound of a longer lasting phone, rather than having to upgrade every couple of years in order to stay up to date. The only components I can see consumers wanting to upgrade are the processor, camera and battery.” Peter Horsham, Designer

“It could be great for tech people but there are too many reasons for it not to work at the moment and from a product design point of view it could be difficult! Maybe it’ll be brilliant, but I don’t think it’ll take off enough to bring it down to a reasonable price.” Ray Britton, Android developer

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