There's something to be said about a concept that garners 18.4
million views on YouTube.
Back in September, Dave Hakkens had analysts and tech geeks
slobbering over a modular smartphone concept. Dubbed
, the theoretical design employed different hardware components of
a smartphone -- the CPU, the camera, the storage, the battery, etc.
-- to be completely swappable and work together in an upgradeable
form factor kit. This would allow users to improve the specs of
their devices without having to shell out hundreds of bucks for an
entirely new phone.
But as fantastic as the concept was, Hakkens had no means to
deliver such a device to the masses without the backing of one or
more major smartphone players. Fortunately,
) was already pursuing the idea, nicknamed
, and hoped to make the modular device a reality. The problem is --
and there's many more than one -- a modular smartphone is a
logistical nightmare to mass produce, even for a company owned by
Can Motorola Revolutionize the Smartphone?
Manufacturers would have to ensure that separate components, likely
designed by different third parties, would work together as
perfectly as if it had been finely tuned and optimized as a whole.
There's the cost of each fully contained part to consider, which
could possibly be more expensive than the barebones components
soldered into place at the factory. There's also the dip in profits
for manufacturers and carriers, who won't see customers hastily
buying a new smartphone when a better camera or longer-lasting
battery enters the mix. And any company that delivers a modular
smartphone is likely going to be relegated to Google's or
) mobile OS, leaving
) fans without an option.
Nevertheless, Motorola CEO Dennis Woodside is confident that
Project Ara is a workable concept and said in an interview last
week that a modular smartphone is a natural progression from what
the company is delivering today.
with YouTube personality and tech wunderkind Marques Brownlee,
Woodside said he sees Project Ara as the next phase for Moto Maker,
an online customization tool that lets users pick and choose the
many different looks of the flagship Moto X phone.
"Moto Maker was the beginning of a much more exciting and
longer-term story," Woodside said. "Ara is much further out, but
you can see how those two things tie together, and how as we
introduce new materials into Moto Maker, we're gonna pursue that
theme across our product line going forward."
Woodside added that the company is interested in extending the
customizing functionality of Moto Maker to a device's internals and
"that's where Project Ara and Moto Maker may converge."
The Motorola CEO told Brownlee that company has already developed a
Project Ara prototype that's "pretty close" to the final product
the team envisioned. From Woodside's description, it's also very
similar to the functionality that Dave Hakkens conceptualized in
his viral video back in December.
"The idea is you have a skeleton that holds together a set of
components and the components slide in and out," Woodside said. "If
we have the interfaces and the protocols that enable the speaker to
speak directly to the CPU, then this would all be possible."
But all the interfaces and protocols are tough to unify under a
single language, and confidence doesn't trump logistics in tackling
all the problems with a modular phone. Woodside doesn't yet have a
timeframe for when Project Ara could become a reality. "Will we
have a product in the next 12 months? It's hard to say."
Still, it's encouraging to hear that a company -- one that's just
delivered two fantastic high-end and low-end smartphones -- is on
board with the modular smartphone concept and is working toward
meeting the high expectations we all had when we first saw the
Phonebloks video. In a technological landscape where users are
discouraged to root or jailbreak their smartphones and true
ownership falls into a gray area, consumers feeling a greater sense
of title and control over their own devices would be a step in the
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