One of the inherent problems with smartphones is that they are disposable and, thus, prisoner to trends. Few phones are designed to last more than two years, and technology moves so quickly that your phone becomes outdated in a year. Motorola Mobility would like to leapfrog that concept and instead create a modular phone.
Parts You Need, Parts You Don’t
Working with the Phonebloks team, Motorola Mobility is developing a swappable phone, that it’s currently calling Project Ara. Inspired by both Phonebloks and a tour Motorola Mobility held to work with hackers on new ideas for their phones, Ara is made of an “endoskeleton” and sets of points. For example, if you need a new processor, instead of buying a new phone, you just pull the processing module and pop in a new one. Need more memory? Just buy a new flash drive and click it in. Need to upgrade to 5G when it comes along? Swap out your radio.
Normally this would be a pie-in-the-sky process except for two factors. One, Motorola Mobility has literally nothing to lose by making smartphones modular devices; it would essentially put Apple in the awkward situation of experiencing the PC wars of the ’80s and ’90s all over again. Secondly, you have to remember who owns Motorola Mobility… namely, Google.
Google’s approach to hardware has always been fairly straightforward; make it good, make it cheap, and make it widely available. Google makes money selling advertising, so they need people to glue their eyeballs to the Internet as much as humanly possible. A modular phone would make that both cheaper and make users more likely to stick with Android.
That said, don’t expect to see this right away; Motorola is still working on developing “open” modules and needs to put out a development kit. It’s the engineering that’s going to
Dan Seitz is an obsessive nerd living in New England. He lives in the Boston area with a fiancee, a dog, a cat, and far too many objects with processors.