Motorola is exploring a future where phones are easy to upgrade, fix, and customize thanks to modular components. Today, when you want to fix a broken case, display, or camera on your phone you can either hope it’s covered by warranty, spend more than the phone’s worth to fix it at your own expense, or just buy a new phone.
In the future you may be able to just pop off the screen and slap on a new one to replace a cracked screen or upgrade to a higher-quality display.
Motorola is calling the effort Project Ara, and eventually it could be the antithesis of smartphones as we know them today.
The idea is that a phone would have an endoskeleton frame to hold the other components in place, and everything else would be modular. This would let you swap out the display, add on a keyboard, an extra battery, or other accessories.
Right now Motorola is only showing off a few images and outlining the idea, but the company says it’s been working on Project Ara for over a year and plans to invite developer to start creating modules for the platforms this winter.
The team is also collaborating with Dave Hakkens, the creator of Phonebloks — a similar modular, customizable smartphone concept.
If the idea takes off, it could help smartphone users hang onto their hardware a bit longer, just upgrading or replacing individual components as necessary. This could also cut down on electronic waste.
On the other hand, part of the goal is to create a market for third party modules that would tap into the ecosystem — which could lead to folks upgrading individual components more often than they’d upgrade their actual phones… so there’s no guarantee that a world where Project Ara devices are common would be a world with less waste.
It’s still a nifty concept in a world where most phone makers are producing hardware that’s meant to be replaced, not repaired. It’s also a bit interesting that it’s coming from Motorola. The phone company is owned by Google, a company which has become notorious for releasing Nexus devices that don’t even have microSD card slots or removable batteries, let alone modular designs.