Will modular phones reinvent the future of smartphone technology?
This is what Project Ara hopes to achieve. It’s Google’s attempt to disrupt the smartphone industry. It’s a lofty project Google has initialized for the development of modular smartphones via a free and open hardware platform.
What is it exactly?
Imagine smartphones that operate like Lego bricks. You attach the requisite parts on a basic skeletal framework, and voila! You have a phone customized according to your requirements.
Project Ara’s platform consists of a central structural phone to which you append all the smartphone modules of your choice. These modules include keyboard, camera, display and all other smartphone functions. You don’t have to contend with several smartphone features you don’t need. In short, you custom-tailor your own phone.
A modular smartphone will allow users to simply remove malfunctioning or damaged modules and replace them with new ones, or upgrade each module as updates and new innovations are released. This paradigm shift in smartphone technology will mean that users won’t have to purchase a whole new (and more expensive) unit when one feature conks out, or when new and updated models appear. This translates to less expense on the part of consumers, as well as reduction of electronic waste.
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Motorola Mobility’s Advanced Technologies and Projects team initially spearheaded this modular phone project when it was still a Google subsidiary. Lenovo bought the Motorola brand eventually, but Google retained the Ara team that now works under the Android division.
Project Ara is scheduled for launch by January 2015 with a basic retail price of $50. It is targeted at end users who don’t have the means to purchase a high-end handset. By buying Ara’s main framework, they can save up bit by bit to by modules for a camera, more RAM, connectivity, and so on.
As a modular smartphone, it will be the first of its kind in the market. The question remains now: will it be a game changer?
Let’s look at how Google’s Project Ara could revolutionize the way we purchase our mobile phones:
- It’s customizable – As an end user, you can decide what components and features your phone should have. It’s a measure of control that doesn’t exist today, as most smartphone manufacturers don’t give their customers these kinds of choices.
- It will use open source technology – With Google’s Ara initiative, the open-source movement will become less of a niche industry and will become more mainstream. With its release in 2015, Project Ara customers will enjoy an open device that allows them to choose features and functions they like.
- It will change the way devices are designed – Bigger display? Better software upgrades? Enhanced features? You won’t find all that in just one phone. Instead, you purchase a basic framework, and then add modules with these display, hardware and software features according to your needs.
- It could mean a shift in Android development – No more closed devices with their own bundled software designed to work for this or that particular smartphone model. Google’s Ara works on the premise that all end users require particular components for their own personal modular device. That means Android developers won’t be privy to the operating system needs of Ara’s end users, forcing them to develop software and apps that support and are compatible with almost anything
- It will change software and hardware development, as well – Developers will have to start working on apps that can accommodate and take advantage of a wide variety of module combinations. Hardware development companies will likewise have to build components that are compatible with all Ara modules without overheating, creating battery problems, or other issues.
Google still has to contend with the question of size and aesthetics. Won’t a smartphone put together like puzzle bricks look bulky, and feel thick and unwieldy?
Also, will Project Ara click with the average user who generally just wants a comfortable and nice looking phone that works well? Why spend so much time finding the best component modules and end up putting the phone together yourself?
Will this type of modular smartphone technology be a hit with the typical smartphone user? Or will it simply be the kind of device geeks will drool over until the next new technology hits the market?
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