Project Ara could change innovation in the smartphone market

Every year, when new flagship smartphones are announced, the conversation generally turns to just how innovative the device may be for the market. Every new feature that’s announced, such as the fingerprint scanner in the iPhone or new Galaxy S5, is praised as being innovative. However, the use of the word innovative has become so overused that the term is really watered down and has become synonymous with stuffing devices full of features that may or may not be useful or gimmicky.

Since the launch of the iPhone, possibly the last truly ‘innovative’ device to be launched, most devices have kept along the same concept of devices. Almost every smartphone to hit the market in recent years has consisted of the same idea of a device: a simple slate device with a touchscreen on the front, and for some, possibly a keyboard added on. Is this truly innovation? Fortunately, late last year one company aimed to change the lack of innovation in the market.

Phonebloks was a start-up company that aimed to bring a customizable smartphone to the hands of consumers. The concept would sell consumers the shell of the device (Google’s target price is $50), as well as extra modules that would allow the consumers to be able to customize their own devices to their liking by switching out modules such as upgrading the camera, memory, battery, or which ever part of the device they wish to fix. When this idea first surfaced last year, I thought “well that’s cool, but there’s no way it will ever happen.” Fortunately, it looks like I may have been wrong. Thanks to help by Motorola, and in turn help from Google, the idea of Phonebloks, now called Project Ara, is closer to reality.

Google announced Project Ara and is openly searching for help with the project. While this project seems like something from a futuristic movie, it’s now close to reality, and I couldn’t be more excited about the prospect of some real innovation being pumped back into the smartphone industry.

I see Project Ara, if/when it hits the market, as something that can truly revolutionize the market much in the same way the original iPhone changed the way we look at smartphones. For the first time, users can truly have a customizable phone. Up until now, customization has been limited to software and colors for the device. Finally a company is looking to bring a phone to market that customers can customize, and add features that are important to them rather than settling for whatever the manufacturer thinks is best. In this aspect, it is similar to a “build-your-own” option when ordering a computer. You can choose your own components, cameras, batteries, etc. and create a device that is truly your own.

Project Ara

Project Ara concept

This concept would be perfect for Apple to adapt and run with. While the iPhone is great, and my device of choice, there are still some things I would change. For example, I would love to upgrade my memory since I only bought the 16GB version originally. This isn’t possible currently, but with the module system, I could just replace the memory module and add even more storage to my device. If I was someone that didn’t care about the performance as much, but wanted better battery life, I could upgrade the battery to a larger module, and sacrifice processor power or memory to allow room for a larger battery.

The thing that seems lost in the manufacturing process, and planning that goes into phones, is that not everyone wants the same device. Phones shouldn’t have to be a one-size-fits-all concept. Instead, people should be allowed to customize their device for what works best for them, and not what a company tells them is best. This would also allow devices to be both cheap for base models, as well as allow for customizations that would obviously raise the prices of devices for better features. That way one device could serve as a low range, mid range, and flagship device.

Phonebloks

Original Phonebloks concept

In addition, this could mean that the phone’s life could be much longer. When a component of the phone breaks, rather than replacing the whole device, users would now just be able to replace a single module rather than the whole device. This is a great way for creating devices that users wouldn’t have to replace every two years because not only can you upgrade components, but you can replace broken ones as well.

While I can’t wait for the prospect of a Project Ara like device, I’m sure not everyone has the same view. What do you think about the module-based smartphone concept? Reach out to me on twitter at @TiP_Griffin or comment below. For more information on the concepts, be sure to check out Project Ara’s website, as well as Phonebloks’s site.

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