Motorola Mobility’s ‘Project Ara’ Envisages Modular Smartphone Future

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Motorola wants Project Ara to be the Android of hardware

Motorola Mobility has announced Project Ara, a free, open hardware platform that will allow users to create highly customisable modular smartphones using what is being described as ‘Android for hardware’.

Google-owned Motorola says the concept would allow users to select components, materials, price and lifespan of their handsets, and the company has been working on the project for more than a year.

The design uses an endoskeleton that holds together all the modules, including processors, displays, keyboards or an extra battery, and enables a phone to eventually include a component that hasn’t even been invented yet.

Project Ara

Project Ara 2“We want to do for hardware what the Android platform has done for software: create a vibrant third-party developer ecosystem, lower the barriers to entry, increase the pace of innovation, and substantially compress development timelines,” explains Paul Eremenko of the Motorola Advanced Technology and Projects group. “Our goal is to drive a more thoughtful, expressive, and open relationship between users, developers, and their phones.”

Motorola has already met Dave Hakkens, the Dutch designer who created a similar concept called ‘Phonebloks’ and invited companies to cooperate in bringing it to life, since the project is too large for just one business.

Eremenko says Motorola and Hakkens share a common vision to “develop a phone platform that is modular, open, customisable, and made for the entire world.”

Phonebloks cooperation

He says the two will work together throughout the Project Ara development process as Motorola has done the technical work while Phonebloks created a community, with almost one million people voicing their support on crowdfunding platform Thunderclap.

According to Eremenko, “the power of open requires both”. He says Motorola will begin sending out invitations for developers to start creating modules for Project Ara in a few months, ahead of the first Module Developer’s Kit (MDK), expected to be released this winter.

Project Ara and Phonebloks could reduce the amount of electrical waste caused by disused mobile phones, which are either damaged beyond repair or obsolete because outdated components cannot be easily replaced.

Motorola recently experimented with user customisation in its US-assembled Moto X smartphone, the first major handset to be released by the company since it was acquired by Google in an £8 billion takeover in 2012.

However this only extended to the outside of the smartphone, with users able to choose aspects of the Moto X’s design, including colours, back, front, accents and wallpapers, out of 2,000 possible combinations.

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