Five Easy Pieces

Will the Modular Phone Concept Ever Come Together?


Ara

Has mass production met a mighty foe in modularity?

The modular phone concept is an intriguing idea: simply buy the hardware features you want now, and upgrade with satisfying snap-on components like better speakers, bigger batteries and health care sensors. This system camera-like architecture isn't completely new to the handset business — smartphone owners can already customise their devices with SIM cards and SD cards, Square Readers, colourful cases and, of course, apps. Paul Eremenko, Google's visionary head of Project Ara, wants to further this by enabling a hardware bazaar of interchangeable gadgets that sit snugly on a Google-made "endoskeleton".

Mr Eremenko spoke last week about his long-term ambitions for modular phones. He expects the devices to disrupt the smartphone industry entirely, bringing the basic building blocks to users and enabling them to add to these according to their needs and budgets. Mr Eremenko expects that Wi-Fi-enabled endoskeletons will be available from Google for $50 from as early as 2015. A beta version of the Module Developers Kit is already available for download, and the company is offering a $100,000 prize for what it judges as the most innovative Project Ara module.

This is impressive forward momentum, but CCS Insight believes that the economic and logistical challenges of modular phones will be difficult to overcome (see Google Launches Build-Your-Own-Phone Project Ara) and that Google's energies to bring connected devices to another 5 billion users could be better spent. We understand that certain new technologies (such as functional 3G printing) are interesting developments for the industry, but the efficiency of mass-produced phones built with standardised components will be the greatest competitive hurdle for modular devices to overcome.

Project Ara is also competing with Google's Android One, which aims to introduce low-cost devices to billions, and Firefox has unveiled its own ambition to bring the $25 smartphone to developing markets.

Handset modularity hasn't had a smooth past. In 2007, Israeli-based Modu sparked interest in modular phones with the concept of "jackets" — enclosure into which the phone's core was inserted. However, the company folded in 2011, and Google purchased several of its patents. We have since seen a series of modular projects from several major handset manufacturers, but few of these have gone ahead; Xiaomi's Magic Cube and ZTE's Eco Mobius project are examples of modular phone ventures that are very unlikely to reach realisation.

There's no doubt that Project Ara could grow in ways not even Google could imagine. However, if the intentions are to find an innovative way to spread connectivity across the globe in an environmentally conscious manner (as the company states), we believe that Google would be better off supporting a robust secondary market for devices, and continuing to expand its partnerships with manufacturers. For now, the theories and realities of modularity are still too far apart.

This entry was posted on June 30th, 2014 and is filed under Devices. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Posted By Peter Bryer On June 30th, 2014


Comments
(There are no comments yet)
Leave a Comment

Hot News

Team Tweets

CCS Insight
Micromax's Yureka smartphone brings CyanogenMod to a new audience http://t.co/HIv4heKkl1
Follow CCS Insight
Shaun Collins
RT @benwood: BlackBerry QWERTY Evolution. Welcome to #BlackBerryClassic. Great product. Just like meeting an"old friend" again! http://t.co…
Follow Shaun
Ben Wood
Watching @BBCPanorama investigation into Apple. Interested to see covet behind the scenes factory footage. http://t.co/36NdXYQleY
Follow Ben
Martin Garner
@Microsoft sells @MixRadio to LINE http://t.co/WyRntN0tOq - good fit with user base in Asia + a parent with suitably high ambitions for it
Follow Martin
Geoff Blaber
RT @puiwingtam: Apple halts online sales in Russia due to "extreme fluctuations" in ruble. Story coming via @timkhiggins @BloombergTech
Follow Geoff
Nicholas McQuire
"I think 2015 is going to be disastrous for Google" says former Googler as mobile eats away https://t.co/AJaORrScNp
Follow Nicholas
Arnaud Gagneux
RT @Lisa_Palmer: Hi, honey, I'm home! What did you print for dinner? My interview with Hod Lipson of @Cornell on 3D food printing --> http…
Follow Arnaud
Marina Koytcheva
RT @CCSInsight: CCS Insight updates forecast: pressure builds on mobile phone makers as average price declines http://t.co/G0TJY71Tha http:…
Follow Marina
Kester Mann
Xavier Niel to buy Orange Switz? After Free in France, this could send shockwaves across the Swiss market.
Follow Kester
Jasdeep Badyal
Great #Wearables show&tell by @George_CCS and @benwood of some of the products tracked by @CCSInsight #ccspredicts http://t.co/w9wWqaGpeC
Follow Jasdeep
George Jijiashvili
Sony to take on Google Glass with SmartEyeglass [http://t.co/h6TApeekgO] #wearables #wearabletech http://t.co/Z6UCUy274Y
Follow George
Rebecca Morley
RT @benwood: Huge amount of interest in Wearables showcase at #ccspredicts. Occlus Rift, Gear VR, smartwatches, jewellery & more http://t.c…
Follow Rebecca

Recent Blog Posts

Blog Post
Micromax Challenges Mi with Yu Low-Cost 4G CyanogenMod-Based Smartphone for India On 1... Read more
Blog Post
Flic of the Switch The Single Button Theory of Usability Dig deep, it's in... Read more
Blog Post
Will Nokia Dominate the Globe? Here Maps Spreads Across Platforms and Engines Strong mom... Read more
More blog

Latest Company News

Blog Post
Global 3D Printers Market Worth $4.8 Billion in 2018 CCS Insight expects strong growth of 60% per year to deliver... Read more
More news