11th of September, 2013 . Phoneblock, the world’s first modular telephone idea, saw the light. In a context in which programmed obsolescence was beginning to be on everyone’s lips, the idea of power make your own smartphone He deluded the most geeky community, which accused – and accuses – many companies of abandoning their devices and forcing users to buy the latest model.
October 29, 2013 . Motorola, covered by the Advanced Technology & Projects (ATAP) division of Google, announced, its commitment to modular devices inspired by Phoneblock. The thing became serious. Google, one of the largest technology companies in the world, was behind this project And that’s always good news. There would be no missing thinking heads, neither resources nor money. Project Ara aimed to become a revolution in the industry, a revolution that would allow raise the word “personalization” to the nth power.
March 2014 . The first prototypes of Project Ara and you see the first images of what this device would be in a matter of a few years. August 13, 2015 . Project Araa “new route” in Puerto Rico, shortly after the creation of Alphabet and MWC 2015. May 26, 2016 ATAP publishes a video showing the device and what we can expect from it. And absolute silence. September 2, 2016 . Exclusive, Google abandons the development of Project Ara . Again, silence.
This is the chronology of one of the most interesting projects ever created by the smartphone industry and mobile telephony. Project Ara arrived, put the honey on our lips and, without warning, vanished. Later we would see the Google Pixel, yes, good news, but the modular smartphone , the one that would be as you wanted, would never see the light. And that, for the geek community, meant a pitcher of cold water.
Project Ara He had a series of problems, highlighting two. On the one hand, The magnets that hooked the modules to the body of the device were not as resistant and effective as was thought at first. A good magnetic anchoring technology was of vital importance in a device whose idiosyncrasies were based on modularity, but it seems that no viable solution was found.
On the other hand, the modularity was relative . While it is true that the possibility was raised that the user could buy modules in a store similar to Google Play, the processor and RAM could not be changed . In one way or another, programmed obsolescence was still present. Sooner or later, as in the present, you would have to buy a superior version to continue running your apps and games perfectly.
The market, plain and simple, I was not ready for this project . Companies were beginning to “innovate”, adding curved screens, double cameras and biometric sensors , but that innovation seems to be over. Now, if you look at it with perspective, all smartphones are the same. Change the name of the brand, how the buttons are arranged and the location of the camera, but, for all practical purposes, they are all exactly the same . What if we let the users decide how they want their phones to be?
The brands insist on put us with shoehorn endless functions that you can not use , sacrificing others that you may use. I can think of, for example, the headphone jack, the FM radio or the NFC. In the end, it is not brands that adapt to the user, but the user who adapts to what brands want to do on their phones. There’s the notch. Many people do not like the notch, why include it or not? Why not let the user decide?
Given this, an interesting solution would be a Perfect mix between Project Ara and Phoneblock. Phoneblock consisted of an interconnected base to which modules with different functions were added: battery, Bluetooth, headphone jack, GPS, gyroscope, etc. Do you want more battery and do not use the NFC? As you buy a larger battery module and remove the NFC, ready. Do you want jack and Bluetooth do not use it at all? You remove a module and put another , as simple as that. As if it were a LEGO toy, the user could create their own terminal, 100% adapted to your tastes and preferences . In a Phoneblock, everything could be modified.
Project Ara, on the other hand, I had the support of Google , its engineers, its software and hardware equipment and almost unlimited resources, just what Phoneblock lacked. Why not join both concepts? The user would buy a standard motherboard and the rest would be to taste : a larger screen but with notch, a smaller screen, but with frames; a Qualcomm processor from the 6XX range, cheaper, or one from the 8XX range, more expensive; a double camera or a camera of a lens, according to budget; more or less battery. I think it is understood.
The user would not buy a mobile, I would buy “the” mobile . The brands would not stop making money because someone has to make the modules, right? The competition would be in seeing what signature makes them better, what they offer and how they differ from each other . You could buy a Samsung Edge panel, a Qualcomm processor and HTC speakers, for example. When something better comes out, you simply have to update the module by buying the new one .
When new versions of Android come out, Older mobiles could receive it by replacing some modules , like the processor, the CPU and the GPU, and that’s it. Why buy the complete pack, when you can buy only the essential pieces, spending less money and generating less waste ? If you stop to think about it, modular devices would be a real revolution in the industry, perhaps the revolution that is needed for innovation to return to the sector.
That the user does not want to eat his head with modules? No problem, companies could continue to manufacture preconfigured mobiles for the less geeky and less demanding user, who is not interested in having to wait to update.
This is, of course, a beautiful utopia . There are many interests at stake, a lot of money involved and a lot of research to carry out. The modular devices were an interesting project that excited us all. Could it be now,, when should they come back? For now, Project Ara website has expired .