October 30, 2013

Modular smartphones – what you need to know

Written By Martin Sandhu

The idea of modular mobiles has been around for a short time now, with the Thunderclap Project ‘Phonebloks’ gaining some significant attention. Now though, Google-owned Motorola has backed a new project, which means modular phones come soon become a reality.

Project Ara will allow users to buy a basic phone structure and add individual components to it. Motorola have revealed they have been working on the project for a year and are now partnering with Phonebloks creator David Hakkens, with the aim to have prototypes ready later this year.

The device will likely be a bit like a block of Lego, modules or blocks can be added to the core ‘Endoskeleton’ to create a custom smartphone. According to Motorola, “A module can be anything, from a new application processor to a new display or keyboard, an extra battery, a pulse oximeteror something not yet thought of!” Not only does it mean users can have their phone tailored exactly how they want, once a module is no longer functional or requires upgrading, the whole phone will not need to be replaced, making for a more environmentally friendly option too.

“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,” say Motorola.

What it means is that mobile functionality will differ from phone to phone, dependant on user preference – this could have a knock on affect for apps, particularly those which rely on standard functions within a mobile, such as a camera or GPS capabilities. Unfortunately, until more details are released we can only speculate as to the impact these types of phones may have on mobile applications.

Originally Hakkens pitched the concept merely as an idea, but with Motorola and Google’s backing modular smartphones could become a reality. Whilst many in the industry are sceptical, calling the device a gimmick, the project already has a fan-base of 950,000 thanks to Hakkens, so there is certainly some interest.

For now, we’ll have to wait and see…