Welcome To The Future: The Next Smartphone Is The One That You’ll Build Yourself

When the first iPhone was introduced by Steve Jobs in 2007, the entire mobile industry shifted from keypad-equipped (QWERTY and Alphanumeric) cellular devices to touchscreen smartphones. After more than a decade, we are once again seeing prototypes of futuristic communication devices being touted as the future of mobile technology. One of which is the Project Ara — a modular smartphone whose parts are interchangeable like Lego blocks.

Developed by Google and Motorola, the idea behind this concept is to give you the ability to build and design your own smartphone, by adding only parts the parts that you need (camera, processor, touch screen panel, keypad, or battery). In case you want to upgrade, you no longer need to replace your smartphone, for you can simply replace the blocks.

These blocks/mobile components can be bought from multiple manufacturers, and can easily be attached to the device’s metal pad that’s equipped with an electro-permanent magnet technology.

How The Idea Came To Life
Before it is Project Ara, it was a mere concept developed by a Dutch designer named Dave Hakkens which he calls the ‘Phoneblocks’ that aims to produce a sustainable device. Hakkens believes that smartphones will soon be obsolete and will end up in the dumpster (similar to the rest of the outdated technologies we have today), which adds to the growing e-waste of the world. Based on the 2013 Gartner Study, almost 150 million phones each year are being dumped into incinerators and landfills. Only a small fraction of them are being sent to recycling facilities and/or commodities market to create new electronic devices. Gaming Realms, the company behind Spin Genie, has said that there were 1 billion smartphone users in 2012, but this number is said to double by the end of this year. With smartphone adaptation growing at such an alarming rate, and people ditching their phones for the late
st models, it’s not hard to see the potential effects it could have on our waste.

Since most smart devices aren’t upgradable or impossible to repair once physically damaged, Hakkens’ phoneblocks aims to eliminate the idea of having to throw a gadget for the sake of upgrading. The concept later on caught the eye of Motorola, especially with over 380 million social media reach as the site claims. Since Hakkens claimed that he didn’t intend to create the device, he sold the idea to Motorola (which was previously Google-owned before Lenovo acquired it earlier this year).

The Project Ara
Project Ara is an open-hardware mobile platform that’s based on modular, upgradeable, and hot-swappable (ability to change components without the need to turn off the device) parts similar to today’s personal computers, as featured by Florence Ion of Greenbot. Depending on the user’s specifications, the device is touted to be highly customizable via endless combinations of CPUs (processor), GPUs (graphic chip), cameras, screens, hard drives, and more. On April 2014, Google released its open-module developer’s kit that will allow third party developers to create individual parts or hardware components that can be easily clipped onto Ara’s main panel.

If existing mobile manufacturers will join the Project Ara, in the future, users of this device who wish to upgrade a certain feature only need purchase a component from HTC, Samsung, Microsoft Mobile, or Apple. They no longer need to purchase a new phone. For instance, your priority is to have a device with a great camera. Then, you can buy a component from HTC, since the company is offering one of the best mobile cameras around. Or, you can buy a camera component from Microsoft Mobile (former Nokia), notoriously known for its superb Pureview Imaging technology. If your priority is the screen size, you may even purchase a Retina screen component from Apple, if the company joins this project.

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A One-Size-Fits-All Device?
Florence Ion of Greenbot also mentioned that the endoskeleton or base panel of the Project Ara will come in three sizes to cater to the various desires of Google’s wide-ranging market — 4×7-inch model, 3×6-inch, and 2×5-inch model.

Operating Environment
Norman Chan of Tested.com reported that Ara could either run a forked version of Android (similar to the Nokia X and Amazon devices) or its very own operating system. The driver code for the open-hardware project is yet to be released. But, Chan also noted that Ara’s market is not the power users, since it’ll only offer basic functionalities such as calling, sending messages, and storing contact numbers. Google is focused on launching a viable smartphone product first.

These are some of the latest updates we’ve gathered regarding this sustainable and revolutionary smartphone concept. The expected release date is sometime in Q1 of this year, with a base price of $50. If they succeed, having a cellular device that can last forever (with only minor components to be upgraded each year) is a worthy option to lessen our increasing electronic wastes.