Why choose your phone for a camera when you can choose a camera for your phone?
Project Ara, AKA Phone Bloks was a modular smartphone concept created and designed by the Dutch designer Dave Hakkens. The idea was to attach bloks from the “blok store”, a store specifically set up like an app store for hardware. In the store, you buy your bloks like speakers from Sennheiser, read reviews, and sell old bloks. Small and big companies develop and sell their bloks. You can buy a pre-assembled phone or assemble it yourself by selecting the brands you want to support. The choice is yours.
After exceeding his goal of 900,000 supporters on Thunderclap by October 2013, Hakkens started collaborating with Motorola on Project Ara, a more practical modular smartphone system consisting of an endoskeleton with slots on the back where bloks can slide in. Hakkens encourages the supporters of Phonebloks to stay involved in the design process. However, this new project faces many of the same challenges inherent in modular smartphone design.
In 2013, Phonebloks and Google/Motorola announced their similar aim for a modular smartphone, and that the Phonebloks website would become a forum for enthusiasts to talk about and improve the “Project Ara” concept designed by Google’s ATAP team. The modular phone is scheduled to be released in January 2015
Google took the wraps off the first Project Ara modular phone that was commercially available at a dedicated developer conference. This prototype is currently in what Google calls “Spiral 2”.
The Project Ara Spiral 2 model specifications include dual application processors (Marvell PXA1928 and Tegra K1). A 720p display, 5MP camera, microUSB port, battery, and speaker are also part of the setup. Network connectivity options consist of 3G modem, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth.
Google explained how you’ll actually get the battery off while the phone’s still running; this involves a software app that can eject specific modules like USB drives. That includes hot-swapping a dying battery with a fresh one while your phone is still running, something Project Ara’s team says it can currently maintain for about 30 seconds, The eventual goal is to give users 1 to 2 minutes to make the change.
The next Project Ara prototype, Spiral 3, will offer LTE connectivity and better battery life. An inductive contactless data system between modules will also be on board.
If all goes well with project Ara, we could all be changing how we look at smartphones. Instead of the upgrade every 6 months to a year, we could actually be holding on to one phone but upgrading simple things when we need to.