Motorola goes beyond Android to introduce a modular smartphone—that is, a smartphone with interchangeable parts. When the Android operating system hit the scene in 2008, it practically revolutionized the smartphone industry. It provided an open source platform for software and hardware and telecommunications developers to utilize, and brought touchscreen functionality to mobile devices that literally rendered smartphones such as the earlier Blackberry models obsolete. It became a standard operating system for PC tablet computers that doubled as communications devices. The Android operating system was so open source, it allowed users the ability to “root” their smartphones. That is, gain access to the phone as an administrator, much like a PC. The immediate benefits is the ability to upgrade the OS, extending battery life and deleting unwanted apps—which basically effects battery life. Of course, the process of rooting a smartphone or tablet extends far beyond this simple explanation.
The Android OS allowed developers—professional and community based—to do wild things like port the OS to other devices, such as televisions and digital cameras. Google, which had acquired Android in 2005 after financially backing it, has hundreds of thousands of applications (apps) on Google Play, its app store. Addition Android programming is mostly done with Java, which already permeates electronics such as PCs.
So how do you top something like that? How about allowing users the ability to upgrade their smartphones by components instead of having to replace the entire device just, to say, get a better camera. Upgradeable components such as bluetooth, camera, or the battery, gives developers the ability to experiment with different types of components.
So what’s looming for Motorola beyond Android is Project Ara, which brings the creation of customizable smartphone hardware components closer to reality. The idea came about as a natural progression of Moto Maker, the online customization tool for the Android Moto X. After all, if you could fit the software like Lego blocks to suit individual consumer choices, the natural progression is to bring that to the hardware end of things. A YouTube video called Phonebloks lays out the basic concept of a customizable, modular phone and how it would significantly cut down on electronic waste because people wouldn’t have to toss an entire device just because of one bad component. But that’s only one aspect of the concept. The core of it is to provide just the phone you want, with everything you want and nothing you don’t.
Dennis Woodside, Motorola’s CEO says Project Ara is approaching prototype stage. Motorola and 3D Systems (which brings the development community to the mix) joined to take the concept to design and engineering schools to see who could come up with what in developing a workable modular phone. The basic idea is that smartphone components tend to wear out individually. You may have a bad camera, but the rest of the phone works just fine. Or your bluetooth goes out. Maybe your screen gets cracked or a speaker goes out. The rest of the phone is perfectly fine yet the entire device gets thrown out. People around the world through the Phonebloks Thunderclap program have expressed keen interest in the concept of a modular phone, and Motorola is willing to step up to the plate and move beyond Android.
By Lee Birdine