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Project Ara by Google-owned Motorola will offer modular phones

Motorola, a subsidiary of Google, is planning a line of mobile phones with customizable hardware. The program, called Project Ara, is still in development, and the company is asking potential customers for their suggestions. Motorola hopes to allow users to replace parts of their phone with hardware to suit their needs, such as a larger battery or a more powerful camera. Replacing broken or obsolete parts would be easier and cheaper than buying an entirely new phone.

Matt Peckham of Time notes that while the concept is promising, Motorola’s idea still has to be demonstrated:

Every last micrometer of an iOS or Android devices is fastidiously hyped-designed. There’s a reason every part and piece goes where it does, that every last sliver of free space is accounted for. Divvying these systems up into orthogonal modules — and the modules look definitively orthogonal — is going to sacrifice a certain amount of space per module. That space adds up. And what about assembly restrictions, say not placing one high-thermal part next to another? What about insulating the connector points from dust or water? And once everything’s glommed together, will it feel as rigid and durable as something made out of aluminum and glass?

We’ll see. I’m interested. I assume you’re interested. That’s all a company like Motorola needs to chip away at Project Ara until it gets it right.


The Switch’s Brian Fung writes that Project Ara is an extension of Google’s strategy for competing with Apple with Android, the open-source operating system:

In many ways, a completely modular phone would be the antithesis of the iPhone. Those iconic smartphones, by design, are not upgradable — at least, not unless you fork over several hundred dollars for a new one. Consumers can’t easily take an iPhone apart and see what’s inside, let alone install new parts themselves. All that mystery and secrecy makes the iPhone seem kind of magical -- and thus impenetrable to the average user.

Motorola’s bet, however, is that consumers will appreciate a more accessible smartphone, one that users can tinker with and repair themselves without having to go to a Genius Bar or another company store for help. (That convenience could also inspire users to hold on to their devices longer, reducing e-waste and countering the trend in the device industry toward shorter and shorter product life-cycles.)

Brian Fung

Motorola plans more announcements related to Project Ara in the near future.


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Max Ehrenfreund writes for Wonkblog and compiles Wonkbook, a daily policy newsletter. You can subscribe here. Before joining The Washington Post, Ehrenfreund wrote for the Washington Monthly and The Sacramento Bee.



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