Google Motorola teams up with Phonebloks for modular phone

Google Motorola has announced Ara, a project to create a modular smartphone that allows you to swap out components, partnering with Phonebloks' Dave Hakkens.

Google Motorola has announced Ara, a project to create a modular smartphone that allows you to swap out components, partnering with Phonebloks' Dave Hakkens.

(Credit: Motorola)

Last month, designer Dave Hakkens revealed Phonebloks — a concept for a modular smartphone that allows you to swap out parts, fitting them to a base motherboard as needed or desired.

It looked like a bit of a pipe dream, but last night, Motorola revealed that, for over a year, it has been working on a very similar project. Called Ara, it consists of what Motorola is calling an endoskeleton (endo), the phone's basic "skeleton", and modules that can be fitted to the endo to build a custom phone.

But the fun bit is that Mororola wants the phone to be open source. "We want to do for hardware what the Android platform has done for software: create a vibrant third-party developer ecosystem, lower the barriers to entry, increase the pace of innovation and substantially compress development timelines," Motorola's Paul Eremenko wrote. "Our goal is to drive a more thoughtful, expressive and open relationship between users, developers and their phones — to give you the power to decide what your phone does, how it looks, where and what it's made of, how much it costs and how long you'll keep it."

(Credit: Motorola)

This means that, while the endoskeleton will be produced by Motorola, third-party developers will be able to build and release their own modules for the phone — anything from a camera, better battery or more powerful processor to features that haven't been integrated, such as a back touch panel, joystick or EMF detector.

Teaming up with Hakkens will allow Motorola to tap into the Phonebloks community for feedback, suggestions and ideas in developing the phone, and the Module Developer's Kit (MDK) will be released in the next few months so that developers can start prototyping modules. Meanwhile, users can sign up to become Ara Scouts to help Motorola collect data on how people use their phones in order to build the best possible platform.

There's a lot yet to come from Ara, Eremenko said, and Motorola plans to be open about its development process. Whether it will work is still up for debate, but it's looking like a much stronger prospect.

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