What we get in modern smartphones is largely decided by the mass market. If the market wants more megapixels, smartphone companies will give them exactly that, possibly sacrificing image quality in the process. And that’s the thing, despite running on an open-source platform, Android smartphones themselves aren’t open source. To resolve this issue, Google’s taken on a particularly ambitious initiative – Project Ara. If successful, Project Ara has the potential to turn the smartphone industry on its heels.
The basic idea behind Project Ara is to create a completely modular smartphone. A smartphone, which is very much like a desktop PC, in that its components can be easily changed as per the requirements of the owner. To accomplish this, the Ara smartphone will come as sort of a bread board, on top of which modules can be attached. Modules will include battery packs, processors, camera units, health monitors and so on. And that’s the beauty of Project Ara. It will be up to third-party companies to come up with inventive modules for Ara.
There’s really no limit on what Ara could support. If the company can write drivers for their device to be compliant with Ara, they’re pretty much good to go. Ara will end the wasteful trend of changing smartphones just to gain an extra gigabyte of RAM. Instead of throwing away the whole device, Ara owners will be able to simply swap the obsolete component with an up-to-date one. Need extra battery life for the camping trip? Swap out the camera module for an extra battery module. It’s all pretty exciting.
Of course the big challenge for Ara is going to be convincing smartphone manufacturers to make modules for the device. Thing is because Ara is going to be an open hardware platform, any company can make components for the device. And that could mean that new players could emerge in the smartphone hardware business, targeting niches. It is expected that the Ara smartphone will launch for just $50, which will include the frame/endoskeleton and a backup battery. There are going to be 3 frame sizes on launch: a mini, about the size of the iPhone 5S, a medium at 4.7 inches and a “phablet” frame, measuring around 6 inches diagonally.