Motorola Ara

Joining forces with Phonebloks and developing a platform in the open

Building off of a project it called "MAKEwithMOTO," Motorola is ready to unveil its plans for modular smartphones called Project Ara. Ara, for short, is all about building a system that makes the process of creating smartphones that are upgradeable, customizable and open. Partnering with the folks at Phonebloks that recently brought this idea to a wider audience, Motorola wants to do with smartphone hardware what Android has done with smartphone software.

Motorola thinks that you, the end user, should be able to decide how much your phone costs, what it's capable of, how it looks and how long it will be in use. The concepts — shown above, and once more after the break — certainly have our gears turning. The basic idea at this point is to have a main "endo" (endoskeleton) that acts as a frame to hold various other modules in place. Those modules could be anything from a camera or a battery to a physical keyboard or various sensors.

Best of all, Motorola plans to work on Ara in the open, getting the community involved in the process as much as possible. The hope is to have invites heading out in the coming months to get developers on-board to start making modules, and Motorola expects to release a Module Developer’s Kit (MDK) by this winter. Is this really the future of mobile devices? On some level, Motorola surely seems to think so.

Motorola Ara

Source: Motorola

 

 

Reader comments

Meet Ara, Motorola's open and modular smartphone project

81 Comments

First... Seems interesting can't wait to see how it plays out

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Hardware module competition, and software crack flashing

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Yea, this could be truly amazing. We'll be able to swap out entire components of our phones - display, battery, radios... but we still won't be able to stick in a god damn MicroSD card!!!

Does anyone else notice the irony here? They're in favor of swapping *major* components of the device, at the same time they're railing against the simple use of an expandable storage volume. Seems crazy.

But I do hope this comes to fruition, if for no other reason than to force some modularity with which Android deals with hardware. As it stands now, you pretty much can change even the smallest thing without requiring major hacking, if not full recompiling. Look at how much effort is necessary to port Android between even nearly identical phones (incredible S to Incredible 2, for example). You can fault Microsoft and Windows for a lot, but there *are* advantages to an OS that can seamlessly handle pretty much any hardware you could possible throw at it.

If we are to believe what everyone says, it causes all manner of problems in Android and Google will *never* support user expandable memory in Android.

I assume when you sag expandable storage you are referring to sd cards? Coming from a s4 I see no benefit of having it other than storage of media. Besides that it is of no use. I do however believe Moto would have an option to add storage to your device such as a memory upgrade from 8gb all the way up to 128gb if not more. It just makes sense. Btw don't knock a product before it's even officially been made lol

Yes, I'm talking about SD cards, and storing media isn't a trivial issue. I like to carry a few movies on my phone for my son to watch if we're out on a long drive or something, and a simple SD card (you know, the kind that were standard on pretty much every phone up until Android 4.0) are perfect for that.

And if the phone's storage is modular, this would mean one of two things:

1- A single storage module that, when changed, would require the OS and all one's apps and settings to be reinstalled and set up.

Or 2- A storage module separate from the OS that would need to be mounted/dismounted when swapped.

The first option is unlikely due to the complexity of backing up and restoring an entire OS (for average folks), so that leaves is with option 2, which I fail to see how it would differ in practice from how SD cards used to be handled. But it appears Google is unwavering on their stand against on-the-fly mount/dismountable storage, so that would bring us back to option 1.

Can you see the contradiction?

As for not knocking a product, I'm not sure that applies here. First, I'm not actually knocking the product, as I think it's a pretty cool idea. What I am knocking, is Google's inconsistency when it comes to certain things, and this is a perfect example - they've spent the past few years taking a stand against removable storage, and now they want to build a phone that's utterly and entirely modular, which one could perfectly legitimately assume will include a swapable storage module (separate from the OS to be practical).

Thats exactly what I meant by knocking. You are assuming those are googles intentions for the product, however they havent released it yet or stated what their intentions are as far as storage options will go, so how can they contradict themselves?

I don't mean SD cards specifically, I mean wouldnt there be modular hard drives available in different capacities?

But then when you have everything saved onto that hard drive you would have to transfer it to the new hard drive so you can get all your apps/files back...

I'm sorry, but your comment is wrong. Android can run on much more hardwares than proprietary Microsoft OS, that is an absolute fact.

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You're talking apples to my oranges.

An OS running *on* hardware is very different to an OS supporting a wide range of hardware *components*. Since the subject in question is a modular approach to a phone/tablet/mobile device, there's a requirement for the OS, Android in this case, to seamlessly support a range of hardware.

Currently, this isn't possible without major hacking or outright recompiling, where Windows requires the simple instillation of a driver. My comment stands. I think this would be a good development for Android in that it could lead to a more modular approach to hardware support.

Great idea, but as it's coming from Motorola I am sure it will be total crap and gimped to all hell. Google has proven they only bought Moto for the patents and could care less about actually fixing everything wrong with the company.

The concept photo in the girls hand looks hideous, but a case should cover up that hot mess.

Right, however, I think Thalinor is saying he or she wouldn't want the case to protect, instead a case is needed to hide that ugly device. And I agree. Maybe the finished product will look much better than the concept shown, though.

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Ugly is a matter of aesthetics, which is to say personal taste. While it's certainly very different, I wouldn't call it ugly.

If Samsung made penis implants, would they have TouchWiz? - dchawk81

Keyword: CONCEPT. I'm sure maybe when they get close to release it it have the switchable parts, but under a back plate.
And Motorola is not crap. Their 'skin' if it can still be called that is better than the touchwiz which is bloated and causes a bunch of hangups.
With the Moto X, the X-play, Motorola hosting fashionshows, helping tomorrowland into tomorrow world, ect. Their trying to create a new name. It's not like Motoblur anymore.

Right to tw huh?

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I love the idea, especially as I tend to upgrade my phone every year. Would be nice to just upgrade the processors. Needs to run generic android though.

One step closer to my dream of "custom" built phones.
I've always wondered why manufacturers haven't dipped their toes into custom orders. Sure it'd be expensive but I think there is plenty of people that would shoulder the price for a device tailored to their specifications - myself included.
Couldn't be any worse than the grand I dropped on a GSM G-Nex..

Talk about getting ripped off

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$968 and change to be exact.
The only way to get a GSM G-Nex (when I ordered mine anyway) was to purchase it from overseas, I used Expansys, and after all the "tax and shipping" it was almost $1k. I have since sold it and recouped half of my money.

Was the phone itself worth it? lol-NO!
Would I do it again? YEP- having it a good month before my friends and coworkers waiting for Verizon to drop the ball was great. Also trips to the local AT&T store were priceless (though not as funny when I went with my international Note, a device they'd never heard of and couldn't get over its size).

The only thing I gain from these is HL3 will be exclusive to the ara......If you buy the valve made gpu

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It doesn't really interest me. I don't want to have the same frame for years and years and just upgrading certain parts. I want a hole new package. And can you imagine picking up your phone and one of the blocks is missing??? Naw personally not for me.

But, its still early so we'll see how and know more.

Posted from my Galaxy s4 or Note 3

You already are. How many different shapes are a rectangular?

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No that's not how "it works" because Phonebloks is just a concept. That's how it would work in theory but as we all know: In theory there is no difference between theory and practice; in practice there is.

This article states that Moto has partnered with Phonebloks to bring this to life. So, Moto is taking the concept and running with it to make it a reality.

A phone with removable parts might be less tougher than one that is factory assembled... Unlike a PC, phones are more prone to falls...

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I really hope this comes to market. I would love to make my own phone. I've been pitching and choosing with cars for years.

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As much as I love the concept, it is not viable.

It won't see the light of day outside this article

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Unfortunately I tend to think the same but I'd sure love to be wrong. For those of us who have loved building custom pc's this would be a logical continuation of that love. Gotta give Motorola credit for continuing to try and develop useful innovations. .unlike* cough* Samsung

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Define 'not viable'. I'm sure a lot of folks said something like Glass wasn't viable. Neither were hybrid or electric cars. Once upon a time tablet computers weren't viable. There are plenty of things that are truly 'not viable' (faster than light travel for instance), this is not one of them.

If Samsung made penis implants, would they have TouchWiz? - dchawk81

Choosing battery size alone would be awesome! I'm sick of the infatuation with slimness at the expense of weak battery life.

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Phones are packed so tightly together now, I'd imagine that a device like this would end up being very large (at least thick) in comparison to an equivalent hard-built phone.

Nice idea though, if they can keep the size overheads down and have the pricing close to an equivalent device. Paying a little bit more wouldn't be an issue in return for the flexibility and savings in upgrading components.

Would different companies be able to manufacture the individual components? If so, that could be problematic to avoid the the phone looking terrible with a variety of mismatched "modules". I quite like the look of the concepts.

I was also wondering what the size/weight penalty of something like this would be. As every component needs to be covered and needs a connector you can't expect it fit in a package as small as a pre-assembled phone.

I also wonder about how this will impact Android. You (currently?) don't have a driver library like in Windows. Will Google change the way the kernel is setup to accommodate for this? I can't imagine that you would need to re-flash your phone every time you swap a component.

I'll take some thickness. I can barely hold on to my Evo 4G LTE as is, and it's not even the slimmest phone these days. I'd take a bigger battery over a thinner phone every single time, no question. (Note: Within reason. I don't want something 4" thick)

It would be cool to be able to switch out your normal everyday use camera for a module with a better sensor and higher mp for trips and special occasions.

That capability already exists, it's called "carrying a separate camera". ;-)

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This is why Google is taking the core apps out of Android and putting them in the play store.

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It would also appear that Motorola would at least build the part for the developer as to match color designs. Turns the whole phone segment around into a micro consumer electronics company.

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So... it would be 2015 buy the base model on contract for $200, in 2016 upgrade the processor, in 2016 upgrade the graphics, in 2017 hope the carrier pays to upgrade the battery, camera and RAM for another 2 year contract, 2018 anotherr processor, 2019 another GPU, 2020 a new base model as screen & other tech has hopefully advanced by this point.

You would probably by the chassis for $50. Other parts would be decided my who designs it. You might be able to buy some sort of base unit for $300 and upgrade parts you want. All through the play store.

If you think about it you could probably buy a Samsung or HTC phone/OS block and build the screen and other options as you see fit. This would be a true motomaker.
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The key to this is going to be the drivers.

If your average person can turn the phone off, pop in a new camera, bigger battery, more storage or a new processor, turn the phone back on and everything works like it is suppose to, this will be a huge success.

P.S.
Carriers will hate this with a passion (at least in the US).

Carriers probably don't care, as long as you sign up for a nice fat contract. The second you go off-contract, you become 100% right.

Why exactly would the carriers hate this? They'd sell the modules at a higher price from their stores just like they do accessories and make more money off of the situation.

carriers can sell modules at a higher price but if this phone becomes popular, places like Best Buy, Radio Shack, new egg, amazon and others will sell modules much cheaper.
Also if Moto lets after market companies build and create modules for this device (open), they will be much cheaper to buy and allow you to skip upgrades at the carrier level because you can make your phone current with out getting a new one.

Ebay for used modules, this could become a cheap upgrade. Think hand me downs for computer parts. (part out the phone instead selling the whole thing)

Think batteries, cases and other accessories sold currently. Lots of places to choose from, with out dealing with carrier prices and OEM parts, I think Modules for this phone could become like that.

Also less carrier control over the phone, think of how happy Verizon will be when they sell you a phone that you can upgrade just about anything you want and possibly not through them.

It is an interesting idea but I don't see much coming of it. Those of us who would love to see this come to market are going to be few and far between. Speaking as someone who works in a retail environment, the majority of people that come in for a new phone don't know what they are getting and why they should care. They just want a phone that works. You start putting modular parts in front of them and they aren't going to have a clue what to do with them or what ones they should get. You can spend hours trying g to explain the options to them but the majority of the time it will be a lost cause. This is why the current mode will always be the better choice for the majority of the market. I don't know that there are enough of us tech savvy people to make it worth while for a company to bring it to market.

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I remember that concept video Phonebloks made and almost nobody thought it was possible. Glad to see somebody's making it happen since this could revolutionize the entire mobile industry.

Yes the funny fact probably is that they are collaborating since. They talked and they cocreated this first phonebloks phone. Because Dave is worth millions now. A next steve jobs for me but than in a google way. The big ambassador of the new era of phones with over 170k followers anddd 250 million reached that millions of people signed with their email adresses that they want thisphone.. well this is best market aproach ever. He got every single emailadress and fb account details to use a big data strategy on about how much each country is willing to buy this.

I think it's a very cool concept, and I'd definitely be interested as a perpetual tinkerer. Unfortunately, I also know how prone I am to dropping my phone. I can't get away from visions of dropping this and seeing it splatter like a bunch of Legos.

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Buy a case and u are done. Its expected to sell more than all of the recent phones of samsung and apple combined. Comfirmed by thunderclap and shares. When at that point that they are in store there will be over 300.000 new cases to fit with your interest because the size wont ever change. Anymore.

This is a great idea! It's like we the end user can buy parts and build our own phone! Like how we can each build our own pc and have windows or Linux in our pc! We can pick whatever parts that's deemed important to our use from camera lenses to cpu screen size and type ips lcd or oled casing battery and colors and different sensors! This is just awesome

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Eeh. Meh. We'll see. The consumer will decide if they are ready for something like this.

Editor in chief of Futureproff.com

I immediately regret looking at the comments. Of course people already have shit to talk bout something that's not even developed yet... I think it's a cool concept, instead of having to replace your smartphone every year or so, you'll just upgrade the one you have. Can't wait to see where this goes.

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You are fortunate, over at Android Police they are talking about "bag of penises" in the same article. I don't even know why I still go there.

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I will buy it cuz ubuntus edge will soon be collaboratimg with it and than say goodbye to desktop and laptops. Say hi to hologramming on location, beamer on the move ( beamer hardware clip) 50x optical zoom lenses to click on and sunpanel batteries.

I love this idea, I really want it to take off, if only because my iFanboy friends are already 'sperging out about how it'll never take off and why Apple would never do this, when in truth, they'd be slobbering all over this if Apple did.

I'm just waiting for Apple to sue Google and Phonebloks for claiming to have the idea first.

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