(Modular Phones) Project ARA is the Dawn of a New Smart Phone

module_phones_futureSince the introduction of smartphones with large, attractive touch screens, not a lot has changed in the design of the smart phone. It sounds kind of ridiculous when companies talk about their revolutionary devices that are just minor hardware upgrades and designs that are only slightly unique. However, things seem to be changing for the better, as companies have to try harder to make their phones stand out in the market.

LG has introduced the curved Flex, which bends slightly when pressure is applied without causing significant damage to the device. Samsung is releasing the edge, which features a screen that has– wait for it—curved edges that carry the screen onto the sides of the phone. Really though, these are just clever concept phones that are basically just designs to get people to switch brands by standing out. The phones are the same underneath, despite their change shapes.

A Fully Modular Device

modular_PhoneGoogle however, has something very clever hidden up their sleeves, which might just revolutionize phone design in a very real way. Project ARA is a design that is truly unlike anything anyone has ever seen in a cellphone, a completely modular phone that allow the user to customize the hardware on the phone.

This might be hard to picture, but literally the user can take the camera off the phone, then replace it with a newer and better one. The same rule applies to just about every part of the device, so if you want a GPU on the phone, you can add one. I cannot go too far into the specifics of the modules that can be added to the device, as Google is being rather secretive about the design, but this has my imagination running wild.

The idea is not entirely Google’s, or really theirs at all. Modular phones have been attempted in the past, but the designs were simple and did not offer nearly the level of customization that Project ARA does. Project ARA was not Google’s concept either, as it came under their stewardship when they purchased Motorola in 2011. Unfortunately, Motorola did not prove to be profitable to Google and Motorola was recently sold to Lenovo, but Google kept ATAP which was working on this new phone design.

Inexpensive and Upgradable

new_module_phoneThe Idea behind the device is two-fold. One it will be able to provide a cheap platform to help get billions of people onto the internet. The device in its cheapest form will be sold with only a Wi-Fi module and a screen. At just $50 this puts the internet in just about everyone’s price range. From there the users will be able to upgrade the functionality of the device as they go, so if they want to add a camera, or a module to connect to some form of cellular service, they can.

Secondly the phone will help keep electronics out of landfills. Smartphones, much like cars, are produced on yearly product cycles which see the phones getting small technical upgrades. This wastes a lot of electronics, as some of the parts of the phones that are replaced still work just fine when they are thrown away. Google hopes to solve this by allowing the use of a Project ARA device to quickly exchange and upgrade the individual parts of the phone.

A New Idea in Smart Phones

This should start a new model for smart phone production, as many people will want to break free from the traditional 2-year upgrade standard. That is of course if they can stomach the looks of the device. The phone is admittedly blockish, which is unavoidable given the modular design, which is likely not going to be attractive to many people.

One of the better side effects of the phone is that it encourages competition in the smartphone space. Small startups will be able to produce individual modules for the phone, which will exponentially expand the space. At present there are just a handful of companies making all the hardware for devices, who have large contracts with the major smart phone manufacturers. With Project ARA there is no need for hardware producers to have these contracts, as they will be selling them individually to consumers.

A World of Possibility

To highlight the flexibility of this device, the screen should be used as an example. It is believed that 4 or 5 levels of screen quality will be released with the device from 480p, to 1080p if not beyond. Now who is going to be producing these screens is unknown, but it is likely that the same companies who produce the screens for existing phones will want to get in on this market. LG makes the highest resolution screen on a device to date, and it would be foolish of them to not offer a module designed to work with Project ARA. They do not need to offer their best screens, as this is a major selling point for the G3, but they can easily make a lot of money selling their Ultra High definition screens for Project ARA.

The camera also offers nearly limitless possibilities. Professional camera makers will be able to offer sets of lenses for the device, for various conditions. This will make Project ARA one of the best phones for taking pictures. Simply switch to a macro lens the same way a photographer would when taking a close up picture of a flower or insect. If you are not a picture taker, you do not even need to have a camera on the device and there by save the money you would normally spend on a device.

The possibilities seem limitless, and I could go on for hours talking about the way in which I would customize the hardware of mine when I buy one in early 2015, but I think you get the picture. I did not even mention that many of the modules will have unique designs on them as well, which will increase personalization even more. I am more excited about this device than any smart phone I have yet seen, and cannot wait until it hits the market. When Google starts giving us more information about the actual hardware possibilities, I will be sure to let you know.