Last year, Motorola showed the world its Project Ara, a development initiative that would help to build a modular puzzle unique smartphones with parts that can be put together as easily as LEGO. Users will be able to assemble different screen, batteries, cameras, keyboards, and other parts to create their unique smartphones. Before ordinary consumers can start to engage in building their phones, developer will have a chance to develop their modules. This development is very exciting and has a potential to transform the way people see their phones, but there is one party which will probably not like the idea – manufacturers.
Ara’s open approach was inspire by the open-source software movement, especially its idea that great results can be achieved by allowing anyone to freely access and work with the puzzle unique smartphones architecture. After all, the owner of Motorola’s division – Google, is using similar approach for its android operating system. Anyone can make apps and offer them to android users, so a small team of developers can compete with a huge software company.
But doing this with hardware is a lot more complicated. Making hardware is associated with much higher initial and overall costs than making software, which really requires just a computer and coding skills. This means that big companies have a natural advantage in making hardware, with their highly efficient factories and manufacturing know-how.
Yet some of these advantages are slowly disappearing. Advances in CAD software, 3D printers, and other technologies allow smaller companies to develop cheap prototypes for these puzzle unique smartphones and then order a whole production run in China for example. Today, there are services that connect small businesses with Chinese factories that are equipped to produce their products.
All this would point to a rosy future for puzzle unique smartphones projects like Ara. But there are some obstacles and caveats in the way of their success. Current big manufacturers and phone carriers have developed a business model dependent on people changing their smartphones every few years, and would certainly not like the idea of people buying just one new part instead of a shiny new phone. Moreover, most people got used to such a system. And until puzzle unique smartphones make some progress, traditional smartphone makers still have edge in making perfectly integrated gadgets with low weight and thickness of a paper. To succeed, puzzle unique smartphones will also have to change market expectations.
Project Ara – video presentation below:
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