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Google's Project Ara and the Modular Phone

Imagine if you could update the memory card or battery or other hardware on your phone, instead of having to buy a brand new device? This might be closer than you think! Tech Talker explores the exciting development of modular phones.

By
Eric Escobar,
April 9, 2015
Episode #168

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This week, I’m going to be talking about a new phone concept shaking up the tech world—the modular phone.

Last year, there was a lot of buzz around a phone concept called Phonebloks. Born out of the desire to eliminate the amount of electronic waste that ends up in a landfill, Phonebloks is a modular phone that would allow specific pieces to be easily swapped for new or upgraded ones.

As it stands right now, when your phone starts to slow down, you generally buy a brand new one. In the case of Phoneblocks, you may only need to upgrade the processor portion. A phone with separate, interchangeable modules would allow you to slowly upgrade your phone, piece by piece..

This would save consumers a ton of money because you could simply replace the problem piece on your phone instead of the entire thing. Imagine dropping your phone, shattering the screen, and being able to easily slide out the broken one and slide in a new one for a fraction of the cost of purchasing a new device!

Project Ara

This idea gained a lot of attention, but it was lacking a major player able to make this concept a reality. Then, at the beginning of 2015, Google stepped up to the plate and announced Project Ara. This doesn’t appear to be an Android phone replacement, rather a separate phone made entirely to service a niche market.

Project Ara is part of Google’s ATAP or “Advanced Technology and Projects” group. So far, the possible features of the phone are pretty awesome. The base of the phone is a thin metal plate, called the endoskeleton, with slots and connection points for any configuration of modules.

The modules themselves, though, are the most interesting part. Think of each module as serving a single purpose, such as a camera module, processor module, battery module, and screen module. Intended to be somewhat universal, these modules would have the ability to be quickly swapped in and out for ultimate customization.

Modular Modification

Picture this scenario: You are about to go out to exercise. Swap in some environmental modules and measure your pace, heart rate, blood pressure, and location. However, after your run, you’re going for a night out with your friends. No problem! Simply swap the environment modules out for a large battery module and a high end camera module for the night’s festivities.

Rather than having a single device designed to do everything, a modular phone would make it easy to customize your phone to fit your needs exactly. You could even keep extra modules with you in case you want to swap them out on the fly.

Some of the concept modules I’ve seen so far have been breathalyzers, extra loud speakers, card readers, large batteries, glucose monitors, laser pointers, and even remote control LEDs to be used as a universal remote.

Another huge benefit of a modular phone is that because you can choose what modules you want, you can buy the cheapest available modules, and then slowly upgrade as your budget allows.

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