Project Ara has been launched to create an open platform that is both standardised and free. It will allow users to choose their own individual components to build a customised phone. The basis is a frame or “endoskeleton” that holds various modules selected by the customer, including screen, keyboard, battery, camera and extremely powerful memory chips.
As the owner of Motorola this gives an interesting insight into Google’s future direction, and may signal the beginning of some big plans to come. Project Ara follows on from Google’s success with its popular Android phone that it offers to manufacturers for customising to their own brand. The android software platform also allows users far more freedom in tweaking the features on their phones than iPhone users enjoy with the Apple system.
Motorola has been working on the development for over a year now and has recently teamed up with the open source project Phonebloks, an idea developed by Dave Hakkens. Phonebloks is already creating replaceable smartphone components.
An article on the Motorola website predicts that at some time in the future an online store will be created where customers can order their components, both new and used, write reviews and provide feedback.
Ongoing work on the project will be completely open as they continue building experimental modules. The company invites developers to make contributions and will enlist some “Ara scouts” to assist with research and to help firm up the project.
The overall goal is in giving people the power to choose the appearance of their phone, what it does, what it is made of, what it costs and how long they will keep it. Motorola feels that these capabilities introduce a more thoughtful and open relationship between the developers and phone users.
When Google bought Motorola well over a year ago there was much speculation as to what the search engine leviathan might do with a hardware manufacturing company. Project Ara is the first sign that innovative ideas might be at the forefront of Google’s strategy for Motorola. If this initiative takes off, and the idea of the modular “design your own” smartphone concept is a hit, the industry could undergo a major shakeup. Then again, it is early days yet and there is some scepticism amongst industry pundits that this particular idea will catch on.