Motorola announced “Project Ara” yesterday, a project aiming to build a smartphone with swappable parts. According to Motorola, the phone will consist of modules, including displays and processors, and a frame to hold everything together. Sound familiar?
Not only is the idea similar to Phonebloks, but it literally is Phonebloks! Motorola will be collaborating with Dave Hakkens, the creator of the Phonebloks concept.
This, to me, is astounding. The original Phonebloks video instantly went viral, receiving 16 million views in just over a month. It even appeared on my Facebook feed, and everybody thought it was a crazy, but pretty darn awesome, idea.
After my initial fascination with this concept settled down, I began to think about how feasible it would actually be. The components of a current smartphone are “optimized” to work with the device. Circuit boards are placed as efficiently as possible, and batteries are stacked (at least on those that are sealed inside) in a way that as much power and juice can be crammed into the outer frame. Think of how hard it must have been for Apple to fit its front-facing camera right in the center, above the display. All companies have to deal with design issues. They make hundreds of prototypes until they reach one that strikes the perfect balance between form and function.
Companies could hold back from creating these devices because of financial reasons. If Phonebloks became a real thing, you wouldn’t need to upgrade your phone every year anymore. GPU not enough to handle the latest game? Replace it! Have a low-res display that’s driving you nuts? Boot that sucker out of the house and add a gorgeous, vibrant, 1080p display that’s popping with pixels. This idea could disrupt companies’ release cycles and business models. In the current mobile market, there’s no pressing reason for them to jump on the idea at this moment. That’s why I was skeptical of it ever reaching its goal any time soon.
I was wrong. Motorola embraced this idea, and now the wheels have been set into motion. Just the fact that a major corporation is backing the project alone made me think twice about my doubts. In my mind, the kinda-sorta hopefulness I had of it coming to fruition became an OMG-that’s-pretty-legit anticipation.
That may be a little too dramatic at this point to say, and some of the problems I mentioned haven’t been addressed, but I’m genuinely looking forward to what’s coming.
The one thing that is still nagging at me is, why now? Apparently, Motorola had been developing this technology in-house for over a year, and the announcement of the project was right on time with Oct. 29th, the day Phonebloks was planning to execute the “Thunderclap”. Is this one big coincidence, with two entirely different projects with a similar vision coming together in just the last month? Or could Hakkens have been working together with Motorola from the beginning, meaning that the Phonebloks video from September was only a marketing strategy? Who knows. Maybe I’m speculating too much,
For Phonebloks, what started out as a “cool idea” went viral, and large companies became interested. With Motorola’s large supply chain and influence, they became one step closer in their long road to accomplishment. Now they at least have a better idea of where they can go to produce and assemble the individual parts.
For Motorola, this was the next major project to be publicly announced after Google’s acquisition, following the highly praised Moto X. While it still is a highly ambitious goal, if it succeeds, Motorola could possibly become part of the driving force to bring the next big change to the mobile industry.
Hakkens uploaded a second video to his Youtube channel, detailing his collaboration with Motorola and future plans.