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Tuesday, 29 October 2013 06:58

Motorola wants to build modular monster phones

Written by Peter Scott

Meet Project Ara

PCs are becoming increasingly integrated, with SoC parts, quasi-tablet form factors, AIOs and a bunch of other trends conceived to reduce the fat. While PCs are becoming more like smartphones, Motorola thinks we need smartphones that will allow us to mix and replace components.

Project Ara is the name of project, led by Motorola’s Advanced Technology and Projects Group, effectively Motrola’s equivalent of Lockheed’s Skunk Works. Motorola says it wants to do for hardware what Android did for software, but instead of creating a software ecosystem, it hopes to foster development of a third-party hardware ecosystem.

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We must admit the first designs look rather impressive, although we’re not sure we’ll see Ara phones anytime soon. It also raises questions about cost and software compatibility – building a completely modular phone sounds rather expensive.

However, it also sounds insanely cool. Many users are still lamenting the lack of user-replaceable batteries and microSD slots on new smartphones, yet Ara could allow users to change practically everything. Motorola says users could swap out the screen, install an extra battery, keyboard, camera or just about anything else you can imagine.

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Ara consists of an endoskeleton, which holds everything in place, and a range of replaceable modules. Here’s the kicker – although a completely modular phone could be pricey, it could also have a much longer product cycle, as it could easily be upgraded or repaired. Instead of buying a new phone, users could just upgrade their SoC, camera, or any other component – they could also reuse older modules with a new endoskeleton.

Best of all, it looks rather fun. It reminds us of the good old days, when every PC had a discrete sound card, modem, LAN card, but I guess we’re just old, nostalgic hacks.

However, turning the concept into reality won’t be easy and it will be pricey, although the phrase “shut up and take my money” comes to mind.

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