Call it a Lego phone, a modular phone, a DYI phone, or a totally customizable phone. Google's Project Ara is breaking a smartphone into modular pieces and letting people build custom phones.
MADISON, Wis. — Google is betting on the untested but popular Maker Movement and trusting that its build-your-own-phone project will appeal to those of us who have little say in how smartphones are made, what they do, and how they look. Google apparently believes that the project will entice 6 billion people into the smartphone fold.
Well, in the words of the smartphone prophet Buddy Holly, that'll be the day.
The thing is, Buddy, that might be the day. As we've all learned in the technology world, you should never say no to whatever is new.
Google is moving forward with Project Ara, a modular smartphone initiative started more than a year ago by Google's Motorola Mobility group. The company is holding its first Ara Developers' Conference April 15-16 at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif.
The project, originally described by Google, as doing "for hardware what the Android platform has done for software," is building an open hardware community around a modular Android smartphone platform.
Paul Eremenko, a Motorola Mobility veteran now running Project Ara, wrote in a Google blog post that it is inviting just about everyone in the electronics industry, "from major OEMs to innovative component suppliers to startups and new entrants into the mobile space," to its on-site event. "Non-developers and Ara enthusiasts" are invited to join via the live web stream.
Though Motorola Mobility's handset business is being sold to China's Lenovo, Project Ara has survived. It lives on as part of Google Advanced Technology and Projects, headed by Regina Dugan, the former director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). It turns out that Eremenko is also a DARPA alumnus.
Project Ara offers a smartphone in modular pieces.
Google says Project Ara is "designed exclusively for 6 billion people," but it's not clear who the real target is for the modular smartphone platform initiative.
Liberation from component vendors
Call it a Lego phone, a modular phone, a DYI phone, or a totally customizable phone. Project Ara is breaking a smartphone into modular pieces, giving people opportunity to build custom phones.
Time magazine, which conducted an extensive interview with members of the Project Ara team, called the platform something that "permits hot-swapping of modules, without requiring you to power down the phone -- which means that you could slide out the camera and replace it with a battery whenever you needed a little extra juice."
In essence, Google is pitching Project Ara as liberation from component vendors and hardware companies. "Rather than depending on a component maker's skill at landing contracts with big handset manufacturers, phone buyers would call the shots," Time reported.
That, however, might be an oversimplification designed to appeal to the DIY crowd.
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