Motorola’s “Project Ara” Delivers the Fully Customizable Smartphone

by Matt Klassen on November 1, 2013

Its Android for hardware, at least that’s how Motorola conceives of its new ‘Project Ara,’ a unique open source approach to smartphone hardware development that mirrors the inherently customizable nature of its operating system cousin by allowing users to personally tailor their entire phone, right down to the specific components and display.

Ara’s modular design is based around the phone’s endoskeleton, or “endo,” which provides the core framework for all the other added components. Such a design will allow consumers to be able to add and remove the interchangeable pieces however they like: Don’t want a camera? Then swap it for an additional battery; need a physical keyboard? Well swap that display for a different one; or even upgrade that clunky old processor for a speedy new one. Not only that, but consumers will have the option of playing with the aesthetic quality of the phone as well by using different-coloured modules.

While there’s no question that the unique ability to fully customize one’s smartphone will appeal to some, one has to wonder if this is the future of smartphone development, or whether this is yet one more niche project that ultimately appeals to the relatively nerdy few, destined for the technological trash heap of broken dreams.

“Our goal is to drive a more thoughtful, expressive, and open relationship between users, developers, and their phones. 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,” Motorola’s blog post unveiling the fledgling “Project Ara” explains, a project that endeavours to bring an open source hardware ecosystem to everyone in the world.

Unquestionably ambitious, the modular project hopes “to do for hardware what the Android platform has done for software,” that is “create a vibrant third-party developer ecosystem, lower the barriers to entry, increase the pace of innovation, and substantially compress development timelines.”

Of course it remains to be seen whether anyone, developers or consumers, will flock to Project Ara, but there’s no question that there’s at least enough initial interest to get the project off the ground, whether it stays alight is certainly the lingering question.

But how are we to view this new Project Ara from Motorola, is it the future of smartphone technology or simply the next LEGO inspired gadget destined for the modular garbage can? “We know there are a number of folks who like to tinker with their devices,” Ramon Lamas, research manager of mobile phones at IDC, told TechNewsWorld in a recent interview. “I think there’s going to be some interest out there, but you’re talking to a very select segment of the market as opposed to the mass market.”

Simply put, while it’s a unique and ambitious plan, it’s likely such open source smartphone hardware will be one for the technophiles only, as I think Motorola and other customizable projects will soon find that while customers want customizable hardware control, they don’t want to have to work (or pay) for it.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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