Building your own computer isn’t as complicated as it sounds if you know what you’re doing. Most people know someone who has done that. Building your own cell phone, on the other hand, is an entirely different matter. That opportunity may be just around the bend, however, with Motorola’s recently announced Project Ara.
Motorola, a smartphone phone manufacturer owned by Google, and Dave Hakkens, the Dutch designer of Phonebloks, are working together to get Project Ara off the ground. The premise is that users can purchase a simple phone structure and then add their own modules – battery, keyboard, and so on. This is the next step in the trend of phone customization, allowing you to truly custom-build your own mobile device to your specifications.
According to Motorola’s blog, the project has been in the works for over a year. In a blog post, the firm compared their work to what Android has done for software, by allowing third parties to take control of the ecosystem. While developing the project, Motorola became aware of Dave Hakkens’ work with Phonebloks, which has a very similar premise and has been gaining on popularity. The firm invited Hakkens to partner with them in creating Project Ara.
Users will begin by purchasing an “endoskeleton,” Motorola’s title for the phone frame that is meant to hold the extra modules in place. Modules can be anything from keyboards to displays to processors to external sensors – essentially any imaginable phone component. In just a few months time, Motorola will invite developers to begin creating possible modules, and a module developing kit will be launched soon after.
Time to Create Your Own Smartphone?
While at first glance this may sound like a brilliant idea, the idea is being met with some skepticism. Chris Green works for the Davies Murphy Group consultancy as their principal technology analyst, and he views it as no more than a clever gimmick. The demand, he says, is just nonexistent. With the customization options already available, users don’t see much benefit to assembling their own device from scratch. He points to the fact that fewer users are making their own PCs than in the past, indicating that now is just not the right time to push a “create your own device” model. Motorola’s own Moto X are letting user to customize front and back covers. It’s will be available for less than $50 on AT&T Black Friday here. Too many options will confuse consumers and command a premium price.
CCS Insight’s mobile expert Ben Wood echoes Green’s uncertainty about the product’s mass marketability. While he admits the surface appeal of it, he feels the modular design will make the resulting devices too clunky and unattractive to appeal to the modern audiences. He suggests instead making it easier to replace displays and batteries on current phones, claiming that would be a much more viable option for phone design innovation.
Phone that never Obsoletes
Dave Hakkens counters, however, calling his own custom-built phone “a phone worth keeping.” It’s not just about the appeal of customizing a phone like you would customize your wallpaper. With Project Ara, customers will be able to create phones that can be replaced piece by piece when they break down. Hypothetically, this could lead to a phone that never experiences obsolescence. Are users willing to pay for the perks in building their own devices, or will they prefer the smoother looks of the pre-made phones? We’ll find out when Project Ara hits the market, but until then, the speculation continues.