Back in early September, a video came out on YouTube, marketing the idea of a modular phone under the name Phonebloks. The video went viral and is embedded below.
The central conceit of Phonebloks is upgradeable components. Instead of tossing out our entire phone in an upgrade—when we really just want a better camera, or better battery life—we can upgrade particular removable components. If you want a better camera, you can just buy the modular release of a better camera. It rewards consumers for becoming more advanced in their phone usage: instead of forcing consumers to adapt to the current smartphone release, the modular phone rewards consumers with an experience tailored to their own usage and needs.
Soon after in October, Motorola and Google announced that they were making that a reality, with a project that had allegedly been in the works for over a year: Project Ara.
And now, as detailed in a lengthy profile at TIME’s Techland section, Google hopes to have a $50 basic Ara unit in stores by next year, with only wi-fi connectivity. Once released, the phone will prove to be either a sweeping paradigm-shifting success, or an enormous flop and miscalculation of consumer demands.
I think the keys to Ara’s success will be 1) ensuring people aren’t overwhelmed by all the custom options, and the resources are readily available to guide people through the process (which Google is actively addressing through digital apps and physical kiosks), and 2) opening up the market to enhance the array of options and encourage competition. Someone should be able to mix-and-match a Motorola processor with an LG camera with a Verizon cellular network. Ideally, that is where we are headed.
Nonetheless, it’s an exciting time in the world of mobile technology—we’ll see how Google fares come this time next year, when Ara is in consumers’ hands.
Hardawar, D. (2014, February 27). Google aims for a basic $50 modular phone next year, dishes more on Project Ara. VentureBeat. Retrieved from http://venturebeat.com/2014/02/27/google-aims-for-a-basic-50-modular-phone-next-year-dishes-more-on-project-ara/
McCracken, H. (2014, February 26). Project Ara: Inside Google’s Bold Gambit to Make Smartphones Modular. TIME. Retrieved from http://techland.time.com/2014/02/26/google-project-ara-modular-smartphone/