Even though there is a clear trend towards maximum integration for all consumer electronics devices and it is getting harder to expand even a mainstream PC, Motorola proposes a concept that would enable maximum expandability for smartphones and eventually tablets. Project Ara is a free platform that allows end-users to build their own smartphones out of standard building blocks, which will result in handsets tailored for particular users.
Led by Motorola Mobility’s advanced technology and projects group, project Ara is developing a free, open hardware platform for creating highly modular smartphones. The company wants 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.
The goal of Ara is to drive a more thoughtful, expressive, and open relationship between users, developers, and their phones. To give end-users the power to decide what his/her phone does, how it looks, where and what it is made of, how much it costs, and how long one will keep it.
The design for Project Ara consists of is called an endoskeleton (endo) and modules. The endo is the structural frame that holds all the modules in place. A module can be anything, from a new application processor to a new display or keyboard, an extra battery, a pulse oximeter, or something not yet thought of.
While project Ara seems to be a promising idea, it does not follow industrial trends and calls for unification of too many components that currently use proprietary form-factors, sometimes interfaces and so on. Moreover, the concept will require end-users to very well understand how smartphones based on Google Android work and which components will bring benefits personally to them. Quite naturally, loads of unbalanced smartphones will emerge in the mainstream segment, where one or two components will significantly outclass the remaining parts and will not be able to demonstrate their true potential.
“We’ve been working on Project Ara for over a year. Recently, we met Dave Hakkens, the creator of Phonebloks. Turns out we share a common vision: to develop a phone platform that is modular, open, customizable, and made for the entire world. We’ve done deep technical work. Dave created a community. The power of open requires both. So we will be working on Project Ara in the open, engaging with the Phonebloks community throughout our development process, as well as asking questions to our Project Ara research scouts (volunteers interested in helping us learn about how people make choices),” said Paul Eremenko, a spokesman for Motorola advanced technology and projects group.
In a few months, Motorola Mobility will also send an invitation to developers to start creating modules for the Ara platform (to spice it up a bit, there might be prizes!). The company anticipates an alpha release of the Module Developer’s Kit (MDK) sometime this winter.