Motorola is trying to do on the handset side what T-Mobile is doing on the wireless side: shake up the status quo. Beyond its customizable smartphones, Google-owned Moto is now developing a free, open hardware platform for creating “highly modular” smartphones. Analysts said it could turn heads in the enterprise.
According to Paul Eremenko of Motorola’s Project Ara Team, the idea was birthed during a six-month journey with Sticky, a truck wrapped entirely in Velcro and filled with rooted, hackable Motorola smartphones and high-end 3D printing equipment.
“On that trip we saw the first signs of a new, open hardware ecosystem made possible by advances in additive manufacturing and access to the powerful computational capabilities of modern smartphones,” Eremenko wrote. “These included new devices and applications that we could never have imagined from inside our own labs.”
After the trip, the company asked a key question: How do we bring the benefits of an open hardware ecosystem to 6 billion people? The answer was Ara.
Motorola wants to do for smartphone hardware what Eremenko said the Android platform has done for smartphone software: create a third-party developer ecosystem, lower the barriers to entry, increase the pace of innovation, and substantially compress development timelines.
“Our goal is to drive a more thoughtful, expressive, and open relationship between users, developers, and their phones,” he said. “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.”
Project Ara’s design is made up of what Moto calls an endoskeleton, or endo, and modules. The endo, Eremenko explained, is the structural frame that holds all the modules in place. A module can be anything, from a new application processor to a new display or keyboard, an extra battery, a pulse oximeter -- or something not yet thought of. Moto has been quietly working on Ara for more than a year but things heated up when company officials met Dave Hakkens, the creator of Phonebloks.
“Turns out we share a common vision: to develop a phone platform that is modular, open, customizable, and made for the entire world. We’ve done deep technical work. Dave created a community,” Eremenko said. “The power of open requires both.”
A Good Fit for the Enterprise
We turned to Avi Greengart, an analyst at Current Analysis, to get his thoughts on the Project Ara. While he gives Motorola credit for thinking outside the box, he told us he’s not convinced presenting traditional consumers with a “Lego kit of a phone” will win their business.
Phones with components are almost always bulkier than single casing phones, he explained, and even if Moto found a way to make the phones thinner, battery life could still be compromised.
“Where this could really make a lot of sense, though, is for corporate use where companies are trying to create customized devices and an off-the-shelf device may not have the bar code reader or keypad or whatever meets a specific business process,” Greengart said. “Designing a phone from scratch to meet those needs is prohibitively expensive. This approach can make sense in that scenario.”
Posted: 2013-11-21 @ 10:00am PT
So this is what Google had in mind when they acquired Motorola! - Despite the near audaciousness of the plan, Project Ara does sound pretty novel & futuristic.
Posted: 2013-11-19 @ 5:44am PT
3-D printing, Graphene, and modular phones designed to change with the times...the future is here.