In the end, Gabriel expects adding modularity will increase costs about 25%. The phones will also be larger and consume more power than integrated models, and their value must rise above all those costs.
There are management issues, too. All this work is coordinated by just four Google researchers working with third parties in some 22 universities and mainly small companies. Some large companies have shown interest.
"I thought small companies would be most excited by our concept, but an executive with a large semiconductor company said he has the same problem we see: When he has a new power management chip they have to convince the same half dozen guys at smartphone OEMs to use it," Gabriel said. "There are ocean of customers and oceans of apps and a narrow pipe of companies such as Samsung and HTC we talk to them through," he said.
Speeding up hardware design is another promise of the project.
As an industry, "We can't seem to break the 18- to 20-month cycle for hardware development; software is at 3.5 months," he said.
"We want modules to be just like apps. We may never got to 3.5 months but I'll take six or eight or nine," he said.
Ara aims to narrow the gap between smartphone hardware and software design.
Ultimately, the modular concept could expand to all consumer electronics, Gabriel noted in conversation to EE Times. In the Ara world, "Nest thermostats might just be another skeleton," he said.
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