Google launches build-your-own-phone project Ara

 
Sneak preview of Project Ara The firm wants to do for hardware what app stores did for software

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Google-owned phone firm Motorola has announced a new project to let users customise their smartphone components.

Project Ara allows users to buy a basic phone structure and add modules such as keyboard, battery or other sensors.

Motorola has partnered with Dutch designer Dave Hakkens, who has created Phonebloks, a modular phone idea, on the project.

Experts were unsure on how big a shake-up for the mobile phone industry the customisable handsets would represent.

In a blog post, Motorola said that it had been working on the project for more than a year.

"We want to do for hardware what the Android platform has done for software - create a vibrant, third-party developer ecosystem," the firm wrote in a blog post.

"To give you the power 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."

The project will consist of what Motorola is calling an endoskeleton, the frame that will hold all the modules in place.

"A module can be anything from a new application processor to a new display or keyboard, an extra battery, a pulse oximeter - or something not yet thought of," the firm said.

Why your phone is rubbish (or will be)

Why your phone is rubbish (or will be)
  • It is predicted that 1.8bn phones will be sold this year, and that 1.5bn will be thrown away, or fall into permanent disuse
  • A total of 5.5bn are estimated to be in use worldwide
  • The environmental cost of making handsets includes mining for components
  • Used phones contain hazardous elements such as lead, mercury and chlorine, but also valuable metals like gold
  • Electronic waste is often exported to the developing world for processing - the work poisons workers and pollutes the environment

Source: CCS Insight, United Nations

Motorola plans to begin inviting developers to create modules in a few months time with a module developer's kit launching soon afterwards.

Motorola came across the work of Dave Hakkens, the creator of Phonebloks, while developing the project and asked him to team up with them. Phonebloks has gained much interest in recent months.

Lego phone

Mr Hakkens launched Phonebloks on crowd-promoting website Thunderclap and quickly amassed 950,000 supporters.

"We've done the deep technical work. Dave created a community," Motorola added in its blogpost.

Chris Green, principal technology analyst at the Davies Murphy Group consultancy, dismissed the project as a "gimmick".

"I don't see this as being a big deal. It is not responding to any particular demand and there is no real benefit to assembling your own device,

"The days of DIY IT, people building their own desktop PC, are gone due to falling costs of hardware," he said.

Ben Wood, a mobile expert from CCS Insight, is equally unsure of how mass market such a product can be.

"Creating a Lego-like phone seems on the face of it like a great idea but the commercial realities of delivering such a device are challenging. Consumers want small, attractive devices and a modular design makes this extremely difficult.

"It's a nice idea on paper but whether we'll ever see a commercial product remains to be seen. Right now it would be a great improvement if it was easier to replace batteries and screens but even that seems unlikely in the near term."

 

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  • rate this
    +11

    Comment number 144.

    I don't know how this will work out for Motorola, but for Chris Green to say that "the days of people building their own computers is over" is just plain wrong. My brother and I just finished building our computers and there are entire companies like Newegg built for DIY computer building. Its good fun and it lets you know what you're paying for and how it's put together.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 141.

    As an end-user smart phone, I don't see a mass market for this type of device, but as a platform for creating other devices, e.g. the microscope, satelite and eye-test mods we've been hearing about, I feel that this could have many uses. Once the infrastructure is in place and modules become available, then only our imagination would set the limits. Think of it more as a smart-swiss army knife!

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 95.

    Interesting idea but probably not workable. Mainly because it will be too bulky. If you have never designed electronics you will not appreciate the work involved to optimize the circuit board to fit everything into a small space. A modular solution like this would waste too much space on the connectors that are needed to connect the modular elements to the framework elements that carry power, etc.

  • rate this
    -9

    Comment number 75.

    just another gimmick. it wouldn't matter how you arrange your phone structure, it still needs a screen, a sensor for calling and receiving and an interface. regardless millions more phones will be thrown away no matter what.

    I have assembled my own pc for years, upgrading parts over the years but even after all these upgrades i still have to chuck away the components after their use by date.

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 74.

    Build you own is more economical and more fun. Plus there's a certain pride you can take in knowing that what you've done is unique, fir for your purpose, and more likely to last.

    Most phones these days are too similar. They're all too gimmicky and I resent paying for the stuff I don't use. Building one to suit me would be ideal.

    When can I get one??

 

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