How long do you own a smartphone for before you get fed up? Two years, one year, one month? I generally get a new device every two years, but that’s only because I insist on tying myself into 24 month contracts. I’m ready to move on after about a year. If you like to keep up with the Joneses as so many people do, how would you like it if I told you there was a smartphone that you could change every day; every minute if you wished? This is what Google is offering with its latest scheme, Project Ara – the world’s first fully modular phone.
Modular you say?
Yep, the next evolution in smartphone, apparently. The concept is simple – you buy a standard Ara phone, pull out all of the parts of and replace them in a way that better suits your needs and mood.
Camera not delivering the goods? Swap it with a more powerful one. Processor too sluggish for streaming Spotify and playing games at the same time? Not a problem, just slide the unwanted module out as if you were changing the batteries on your TV remote and slot in a better alternative.
Here’s a video from Google that better explains what I’m talking about.
Project Ara was originally the idea of Motorola’s Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) group, which Google kept hold of, and pushed on with, when it sold the vast majority of Motorola to Lenovo…although, it’s neither an official Nexus nor Android product as yet.
So what types of modules are there?
According to Google, there will be more than 20 modules available at launch, including such necessities as Wi-Fi, 3G and 4G connectivity modules, new screens (brilliant idea!) and faster processors. There will also be nifty things like health-monitoring devices, powerful speakers and an analogue clock.
Some big names are already on board in the shape of Nike and Sennheiser, while independent developers can also get involved. And Google is urging them to do so with its Project Ara community and $100,000 prize for any dev that can produce something “outside-the-box”.
The idea, it seems, is to have a bit of a Google Play thing going on, where small-time garage developers can sell components alongside the likes of Samsung and Google themselves. Unlike apps, though, you can collect as many modules as you want, slap an elastic band around them and go play swaps with your mates – got, got, got, NEED.
The modules are securely held in place by magnets, so the phone doesn’t explode like Lego when you drop it and each piece will range from 4mm to 10mm in thickness, so your device won’t ever get Nokia 3310 bulky.
New phone, old phone, same phone
By rolling out a modular phone, Google are introducing a framework that would prevent the need to buy a new phone every couple of years. Instead you can upgrade old parts to more advanced alternatives and you’ll be able to do this for five-to-six years, which is how long Google says the frame is designed to last.
Sounds good, but will it work?
I certainly hope so because I want one, but not everyone is so sure, including IDC’s brilliantly named Francisco Jeronimo.
“It’s a great idea. In theory, to be able to select the components of the phone regardless of the brand is a great idea, but at the end of the day it won’t work,” Jeronimo told The Guardian. “It’s not economically viable for any vendor to manufacture a phone and to provide software that will allow users to select components.”
The reason for Jeronimo’s pessimism lies in the fact operating system software has to specifically tuned into hardware components in order for the phone to run without being as buggy as a Chinese tablet off eBay.
“To be able to manufacture a phone that will work with different components without any problems when users change them about is a major issue,” Jeronimo added.
“For a project like Ara to be successful they need to test every single component in every combination, which is not an easy task, especially when you are talking about different components from different manufacturers.”
I don’t care what he thinks, where can I get one?
Not your typical market for the hottest tech, but the only place you’re going to be able to grab an Ara phone at launch later this year. Google has chosen US territory because it is a “gateway from the US to the world” and at the “leading edge of a global trend.” The island is also bilingual and has designated free-trade areas for importing modules.
There is no word yet on when the phone will launch worldwide, so a trip to the Caribbean could be your best bet if you want to one of the first to own a modular phone.
A quick bit of research tells me you can get a flight from London to San Juan for £321 return. Add in the price of the phone – rumoured to be between $50 and $100 – and you’ve got yourself a holiday and a fully customisable new phone for less than the cost of an iPhone 6. Happy days!
At this closing point of a phone-related blog post, I’d typically tell you how you could protect and spruce up your device with one of our many cases, but I don’t even know how a case for the Ara would work so I’ll have to get back to you on that one.
How long do you own a smartphone for before you get fed up? Two years, one year, one month? I generally get a new device every two years, but that’s only because I insist on tying myself into 24 month contracts. I’m ready to move on after about a year. If you like to keep up with the Joneses as so many people do, how would you like it if I