A few months back we reported on a project named; Phonebloks. ‘Phonebloks’ has been pushing the concept of a modular smartphone whose components can be swapped out like Lego bricks. Well, now Motorola has taken the wraps off of Ara; a project to create a smartphone with easily interchangeable parts that could, if successful, revolutionize a device market dominated by Apple and Samsung. The secret sauce? An online community courtesy of the recently-viral Phonebloks.
The company’s Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) team went public Tuesday with its one-year-old Ara Project, after agreeing earlier this month to partner with Phonebloks, a web-based campaign started by Dutch designer David Hakken. Based on a short video that’s racked up 16 million YouTube hits in the last month, Phonebloks has been pushing the concept of a modular smartphone whose components can be swapped at the user’s will.
Motorola’s Ara project aims to bring some substance to Hakken’s arguable pipe dream and “do for hardware what the Android platform has done for software.” Motorola won’t say how much money it’s putting into Project Ara however has said that it’s manned by an internal team and more than a dozen external contributors. The ATAP team, run by Motorola’s Regina Dugan, contacted Hakken earlier this month. At first they offered him a job at Motorola’s HQ, which he declined. “I wanted to keep the vision alive!” he says. Then he proposed an open collaboration, and the following week he was on a plane to San Francisco.
The project may sound vague, but Hakken has clearly struck a nerve with his video and campaign, receiving 6,000 emails about Phonebloks in the last month, and from a wide ranging demographic. “When I started this project in the beginning I thought it would be people who care about the environment,” he says. “But then whole group of the Internet came who like customizable phones. Who don’t want to throw anything away.”
The obvious challenge — assuming they ever get this far — will come in creating a phone that is of a palatable price point, and looks and feels comfortable to use, says Jefferson Wang, a technology consultant with IBB Consulting. Smartphones are now down to 7 mm in thickness, he points out. “Is it going to compete?”
Hakken thinks the key task before him and Moto is even more fundamental than that: “The challenge is to make it actually work.”