Could the future of phones be modular? With the standard smartphone lasting less than two years before being replaced, upgraded or broken, there's a huge amount of technology waste produced every year. A modular smartphone would solve many of these issues, by allowing individual broken or outdated elements to be swapped out quickly and easily.
When the project was first floated in the Autumn of 2013, many thought that this would be a long-term concept with no immediate applications for years to come. But with the financial backing of Google, and the technical expertise of Motorolla, the project has come together faster than anyone could have expected, with a release date slated for late 2015. Project Ara chief Paul Eremenko showed off an early prototype at Google I/O two weeks ago, and though it doesn't quite work as expected, it's still an impressive piece of engineering.
One of Project Ara's major selling points is that it creates a huge opportunity to let users customise their own phone.Don't care about cameras? Then don't have one, add a bigger battery pack instead! Or if you're mad for photography, add a top-of-the-line 5 megapixel camera. Or downsize to a smaller screen and put the camera on the front, so you can get the best possible angles with your selfies!
There's also a lot of scope to customise the way your phone looks, with custom-printed modules covers. Advanced 3D-printing techniques will allow users to create their own personalised textures for each module, or embed an image into the plastic substrate of the module itself. There's an exciting range of covers released so far, including some very realistic-looking wood effect modules.
The project will be leaning on third party developers to create and invent different modules for the Ara phone, with Google producing only the "Endo", or hardware frame. With lofty ambitions, this is a project that could be difficult to get off the ground, but one that has a huge scope for changing the tech industry as a whole.
So, will larger, more established phones like the iPhone follow suit, and join the modular revolution? With third-party development such a large, unknown factor, it seems doubtful that they will. Companies like Apple would most likely rather keep total control over all elements of the phone rather than outsourcing different elements piecemeal. There are still a lot of unanswered questions as to whether it will even be profitable for small companies to work with Ara, and two competing endo systems with different requirements would only stretch the market further. We've also yet to see just how modularity is going to affect system performance; it may be that Ara phone won't come close to matching the operating performance of a traditional smartphone.
Despite all these hurdles, Ara remains one of the most interesting tech projects in the last few years. Only time will tell if the logistical issues can be worked out, and we can't wait to see it when it becomes a reality!
You can find out more about Project Ara at the official website, http://www.projectara.com/.