Motorola is working on a new modular phone concept together Phonebloks creator Dave Hakkens to create a smartphone hardware platform that is upgradeable. Thanks to connectivity, modern phones are able to update themselves via software to get the latest operating system, bug fixes, and new features on the go, but the hardware remains locked at the moment of purchase. A few years ago, if you purchased a phone with a single-core CPU and want today’s bleeding edge octa-core or quad-core processor, you’ll have to buy an entirely new phone.
However, with Phonebloks and Project Ara, users start with what’s described as an endoskeleton, or frame, and then buy various different modules to create their phones. It’s similar to buying an old PC tower and then choosing your old hard drive, graphics card, CPU, RAM, and other options when building your old PC in the days before PCs were made to be non-upgradeable in favor of slim designs over functionality. In the case of Project Ara, Motorola says that you’ll be able to choose your display, processor, camera module, storage, and other integral components to a smartphone computing experience.
“Our goal is to drive a more thoughtful, expressive, and open relationship between users, developers, and their phones,” Motorola wrote on its blog. “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.”
So if you created a smartphone today with a full HD 1080p display, 2 GB RAM, a quad-core processor, and 4G LTE connectivity, and three years down the road and you want to upgrade to a Quad HD display while keeping the other components intact, you will be able to do so.
While the benefit to the end user is obvious in that replacing only the components you want to upgrade or service will save money when compared to having to replace the entire phone, a modular design will also be eco-friendly in that replacing only the needed components will reduce landfill wastes and help to create a sustainable industry.
This may also allow you to upgrade specific hardware components down the road based on your evolving hardware needs. While a software upgrade may bring new software features to make your phone “smarter,” there may be times when a hardware upgrade is required. While sensors today may not be part of your computing language, down the road if you needed a temperature sensor, a barometric pressure sensor, and perhaps a water quality sensor as a field researcher, you can upgrade or add modules to give you these sensors.
Project Ara may allow users to make the most personalized and customized phone to date. Google-owned Motorola Mobility has been exploring customizations recently thanks to its Moto Maker project that allows customers to choose color trims and options for its Moto X flagship, but Project Ara takes the idea a step further down to the functionality of the phone rather than cosmetic aesthetics. Will Motorola be successful in bringing back PC ideas in a post post-PC revolution?