@chanj0 I agree, the concept of modular smart phones repeats to the forefront of news every year or so. You may be right that the recent ones like Project Ara may seem different and promising because of innovations made in all fronts of mobile technology. But I am almost tempted to say this (Ara) too shall pass!
One has to put this in perspective with respect to life cycles of mobile devices which tend to be getting shorter and shorter. I remember my first cell phone was with me for almost 4 years before I made a switch. These days I am upgrading every year or so because the costs continue to come down drastically.
If the cost of service / connectivity comes down steeply, it willl not make sense to have bulkier handsets just because you can swap a pluggable communication card between a phone and a tablet.
I assume folks at Google also do their diligence on commercial viability of such products before embarking on a 'science' project!
Modular architecture is not new. Configurable modular mobile phone is somewhat innovation. The article pinpoints a very good point that the development cost is high. The makers will probably need to sell in high volume to make the money back. However, one of the key motivations of the concept is to minimize consumers keep changing the complete device instead just upgrade a few modules to make it better.
In addition, the phone might actually go backward to the evolution of semi-conductor. In the old days, a device will contain a MCU and a number of peripherials. To reduce size, semi-conductor companies integrates peripherials into the MCU which reduces the packaging. Now, as the chips get smaller, it leaves space for something else such as battery and package for modules. With this said, I can't see a modular smart phone will be smaller than a regular smart phone. Unless it carries a extremely appealing features, it can only be in a very nitch market.
Although the modular concept may not apply well to mobile phone, I believe it may apply really well elsewhere. Lego can actually put this concept into its block to make it more fun and attractive, don't you think? :)
General Magic, back in the PDA days, did exactly this. They created a PDA architecture that had a hardware bus and an OS that accepted snap-on peripherals. It would for example allow police to attach a police band transceiver to the PDA or civilians to use a consumer phone RF module. Google might need to be careful of patents here.
In the starting it might look like science fiction, but modular smartphone seems to be a good concept at least for the engineering consumers so they can decide which module to choose from...hope you can choose the OS too..as the hardware modules..