One thing is clear, there is no shortage of innovation at Google. The data giant isn’t satisfied with global domination of the smartphone market with it’s Android operating system, now they want to standardise and modularize the hardware aspect of smartphones too.
Enter a fully modular and endlessly customisable smartphone, the Ara. The Ara is basically just an exoskeleton frame which allows you to plug in different ‘modules’ which provide different functionality such as the screen, sound, the antenna, battery etc. These modules can be designed and built by ANYONE using the open source platform Google is providing for hardware and software developers. Google is planning to implement a Play Store type regiment to bring the modules to consumers and to enforce some kind of quality control I would assume. Even the modules themselves will be highly customisable, allowing the user to remove and swap the casing for further personalisation.
A modular mobile phone scheme allows for longer device lifespan as you won’t throw away your whole device if just the screen or battery are malfunctioning, you’ll simply replace the modules and go on with your life. The modular phone concept is not new. You might remember Phonebloks, a modular phone Kickstarter project from las year. This project is now being developed in collaboration with Project Ara.
Google says Project Ara is in line with its aims to reach 6 billion smartphone users. That number probably has you thinking “Google, you’re reaching.” but then again when have they ever not been? This is one of their ‘moonshot’ initiatives which include their self driving car and the global internet coverage balloon network project, Loon. Speaking at the recent LAUNCH conference in San Francisco, project head Paul Eremenko stated that they are aiming for a 50 USD entry level unit when the phone finally comes to market early 2015. That is quite simply mind-blowing. It is also highly disruptive if it actually takes off and gains traction.
If that does happen, we will see a whole new ecosystem for exciting new startups to emerge. One could easily imagine medical and scientific modules that could be developed which would totally redefine what a mobile smartphone device is.
E-waste is a serious problem in Africa. A growing portion of the e-waste pie are mobile devices. Countries such as Nigeria, Benin and Ghana are being used as dumping grounds for obsolete electronic devices from all around the world. These gadgets which are so instrumental to our daily lives are comprised of components such as the processor, display, antenna etc.. which when put together, make a mobile device.
When there is a defect in the device, it is usually just a certain piece of hardware that needs replacing but the cost of repair or the ability to repair that certain chip, LCD screen or other malfunctioning feature is prohibitive for most people so they end up throwing their devices away. These end up in huge toxic landfills and the materials these devices are made of take thousands of years to decay. E-waste is a complex problem with many of the stakeholders in the global electronics markets needing to take steps towards more sustainable methods of manufacturing. Google’s Project Ara which is a definite step into that direction.
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