Our eyes got all misty dreaming about the future portended by the Phonebloks
modular smartphone design when we heard about it in September
, but thanks to Google
(as well as Dave Hakkens, the Phonebloks designer), that future could be coming astonishingly fast.
Motorola announced that it’s actively working on modular smartphone designs via its Project Ara. It’s a project of the Motorola Advanced Technology and Projects group, and the very words Paul Eremenko uses to describe it in a blog post are a breath of fresh air: “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.”
Be still our hardware geek hearts.
Original Phonebloks design; we'd buy that phone
We can’t underscore enough how completely this could change the mobile
market, not to mention the 3D printing market, for the better. As it is
now, we’re trapped in a paradigm where you buy a smartphone and then
you’re stuck with it until you get a new one. Phones are simply not
upgradable, and you can’t choose to emphasize one feature over another;
for example, if you’re a photo enthusiast, you can’t opt for a better
camera on this or that phone. If you like to play games on your device,
you can’t upgrade your graphical processing power.
For enthusiasts who are accustomed to carefully choosing each component
of a computer build (whether they’re putting it together themselves or
are simply configuring a system online from a given manufacturer), the
idea that you have nearly zero control over key features of your
smartphone such as the processor, display, camera, RAM, ports, chassis
color and design, and so on, is maddening.
The modular paradigm
is one wherein you’ll be able to control what sort of premier features
your phone might have, how much it costs, how long the thing might last
(because you can incrementally upgrade various components), how it
looks, and even where it’s manufactured.
Motorola says that Project Ara starts with an endoskeleton of sorts (aka
“endo”) and then allows for the addition of modules. The project has
already been going for a year, and the company says that it’s been doing
“deep technical work” and also engaging with the Phonebloks community
that Hakkens developed. As Motorola continues its work, it will lean on
its “research scouts” for feedback, and in the next few months the
company will send out an invitation for developers to start working on
modules for the platform with a potential Alpha release of the Module
Developer’s Kit (MDK) as early as this winter.
An open hardware system breeds innovation, and when brilliant and creative minds the world over dig in and develop for such a platform, amazing things happen.