Will Verduzco · Oct 29, 2013 at 01:00 am

Motorola Announces Modular Smartphone Project Ara

Remember that far-reaching and seemingly unrealistic Phonebloks concept by Dave Hakkens from early last month? The vast majority of us shrugged off the idea as unrealistic.

There are many reasons why one would think an idea such as Phonebloks would never come to fruition. After all, there are quite a few hurdles getting in the way, not the least of which is the fact that given the current model of smartphone production and planned obsoletion, it is not in an OEM’s best interest to produce something that can actually last. As electronics are becoming cheaper and cheaper, they are also becoming increasingly disposable.

Furthermore, smartphones are designed to be small, lightweight, and make efficient use of their limited physical volume. Because of these key issues, modular interfaces similar to what we’ve seen in the desktop computing realm have not extended over to mobile. Although it’s important to note that these aren’t so much technical hurdles, as they are implementation setbacks.

Well, it looks like despite the apparent roadblocks, Motorola has been conjuring up something similar in their Advanced Technology and Projects group for over a year. As a followup to their cross-country MAKEwithMOTO project trip, Ara is about developing a free and open hardware platform for the creation of a modular smartphone.

In their words:

After the trip, we asked ourselves, how do we bring the benefits of an open hardware ecosystem to 6 billion people?

Meet Ara.

Led by Motorola’s Advanced Technology and Projects group, Project Ara is developing a free, open hardware platform for creating highly modular smartphones. 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.

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 anticipates that the basic building blocks, the Module Developer’s Kit (MDK) will be available this winter. This will allow (presumably hardware) developers to create modules for the Ara platform. And to help bolster the effort, the Project Ara team has been working with Dave Hakkens (the Phonebloks guy) to leverage the Phonebloks community because in their mind, “The power of open requires both [hardware and software].”

Despite how unrealistic this all seems with current technology and implementations, this has the potential to be quite interesting—especially if there is sufficient developer and OEM support. We can’t help but feel a bit skeptical that OEMs would be willing to commoditize their offerings and then only compete on raw specs and price, rather than value added feature and marketing buzzwords.

What are your thoughts on this? Do you think this is realistic? Would you buy a modular phone, even if it meant an initially higher investment? We are highly excited to see what the future holds for Project Ara, even if we are a tad bit skeptical about how practical it will be, as well as how it will compete with regards to physical size.

Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below!

You can learn more by visiting the official Motorola blog. And if you wish to develop Ara modules, you can sign up to become an Ara Scout.

[Many thanks to everyone who sent in the tip!]


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Will Verduzco

willverduzco is an editor on XDA-Developers, the largest community for Android users. Will Verduzco is the Portal Administrator for the XDA-Developers Portal. He has been addicted to mobile technology since the HTC Wizard. But starting with the Nexus One, his gadget love affair shifted to Google's little green robot. He is also a Johns Hopkins University graduate in neuroscience and is now currently studying to become a physician. View willverduzco's posts and articles here.
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