October 29, 2013
Motorola Launches Ara, A Build-Your-Phone Project
Peter Suciu for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Google-owned Motorola is looking to take the concept of customization into uncharted territory. While the company has already invited users to design their own handsets via the Motomaker website, the customization choices have been mostly limited to colors. On the hardware end, the only really customizable feature is the size of the hard drive – 16GB versus 32GB.
Now Motorola is looking to let users customize a smartphone’s components with Project Ara, where users can buy a basic phone structure and add the modules they desire such as a keyboard, battery or other sensors. The company is partnering with Dutch designer Dave Hakkens, creator of Phonebloks, a modular phone concept. With this, the company is aiming to bring the benefits of an open hardware ecosystem to six billion people – at least in theory.
“Led by Motorola’s Advanced Technology and Projects group, Project Ara is developing a free, open hardware platform for creating highly modular smartphones,” wrote Paul Eremenko of the Project Ara Team on the Motorola blog on Monday. “We want to do for hardware what the Android platform has done for software: create a vibrant third-party developer ecosystem, lower the barriers to entry, increase the pace of innovation, and substantially compress development timelines.”
Project Ara offers users a so-called 'endoskeleton' – or 'endo' for short – along with the aforementioned modules. The endo makes up the structural frame that holds and connects the various models together. These modules can be keyboards and displays, an extra battery or an application processor.
Motorola further noted it could be something else, such as a pulse oximeter, or even “something not yet thought of.”
“Our goal is to drive a more thoughtful, expressive, and open relationship between users, developers, and their phones,” Eremenko added. “To give you the power to decide what your phone does, how it looks, where and what it’s made of, how much it costs, and how long you’ll keep it.”
Motorola has been working on this project for more than a year but only recently brought Hakkens on board. While Google’s Motorola has done what it calls the deep technical work, it suggested Hakken has created the community.
From here Project Ara will be designed "in the open" Motorola promises, and the company is looking to help engage with Project Ara research scouts – volunteers interested in helping better understand how people make choices.
An Ara page has already been set up inviting users to participate: “Motorola is inviting people across the globe to become Ara Scouts. Over the next 6 - 12 months, we’ll be doing research to shape the direction of Project Ara.”
While the DIY market is a growing one, there is the question as to whether people will really be interested in customizable handsets and if there's a market for such devices?
“Creating a Lego-like phone seems on the face of it like a great idea but the commercial realities of delivering such a device are challenging,” Ben Wood, mobile expert from CCS Insight, told the BBC News. “Consumers want small, attractive devices and a modular design makes this extremely difficult.
“It’s a nice idea on paper but whether we’ll ever see a commercial product remains to be seen,” Wood added. “Right now it would be a great improvement if it was easier to replace batteries and screens but even that seems unlikely in the near term.”