Motorola Actually Making Those Modular, Upgradeable, 'Replace Any Of The Parts' Cell Phones

October 29, 2013


Remember the Phonebloks modular cellphone concept I posted last month? Well it turns out Motorola has been developing a similar phone for over a year now, and is moving forward to actually bring the thing to market. Phone too slow? Just add a faster processor! Camera not have enough megapixels for you? Slap in a new camera module! Camera only take unflattering pictures? Lose some weight.

Led by Motorola's Advanced Technology and Projects group, Project Ara is developing a free, open hardware platform for creating highly modular smartphones. We want to do for hardware what the Android platform has done for software: create a vibrant 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. 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.

The design for Project Ara consists of what we call an endoskeleton (endo) and modules. The endo 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!

Ooh -- I've got a good idea for a module. An x-ray camera. After all, what are the best kind of picures? "Nudey ones." Exactly. And how awesome would it be if ALL the pictures you took were nudey ones? "Not that great considering all my previous shots were already unflattering." Dammit -- well hit the f***ing gym, the phone isn't out yet.

Thanks to my buddy Ferrous, who agrees it would be an even cooler design if all the modules were just connected by dangling wires and your phone looked like you just yanked the guts out of a computer.

  • baal

    Going modular really helped the Clans in the BattleTech universe. I'm not saying our phones will go pew pew but if i could have easily replaceable jump jets on my phone, I wouldn't mind.

  • Noneya Biznazz

    Great... just wait til someone runs up and steals PART of your phone...

  • Narcotic

    I made this when I was a kid. Except it was Legos.


    Imagine dropping this phone, it will be like live Tetris

  • da1nonlysage

    Okay, I wanna play

  • I want an x-ray vision module, so I can make sure the carpet matches the drapes, and them tiggles is natural before I take her out.

  • CawaLimon

    More things to lose, more things to malfunction... it's good for Motorola but less than ideal for anyone else.

  • disqus_k2QxOV9H7Z

    I want to se how this will turn out.

  • zatoichi

    This will not save money. This will drive up cost per unit capability. Integration, manufacturing, test overheads are all increased. There are aspects of modular architectures that cannot be upgraded (the processing subsystem), and thus, the problem that this concept aims to solve remains. You still want to keep up with camera sensor, memory and CPU advancements at the same rate that they occur. I would prefer a single, well-designed, system architecture + OS. It is cheaper in the long run.

  • cmac

    Open architecture is always less expensive over time. OEM drives innovation and lowers price. This has always been true. The same applies here. Your assertion that this will not save money is not based in fact.

  • zatoichi

    Your indictment of my assertion is overgeneralizing. Do you know what "Open Architecture" means? The interconnect, and surrounding technology will be proprietary. What have you heard about open standards for this? Nothing!

  • Ry

    Computers are modular. Because of that, computers are expensive and unpopular. Oh wait...

  • Walking_paradox

    Yes, and they never change the socket of the processor, so we can still use the same motherboard I had on my core 2 duo for those new 8 core process... oh wait...

  • l3rn

    I think you're missing the point. This is so you can upgrade little things on the fly, not so you can keep the same phone for a decade. It means instead of having not choice but to sell 3 different versions of the same phone with slightly modified hardware them being stuck with your choice, they have the capability of selling a baseline model that you can upgrade, or give you the option to buy the baseline model then eventually get small upgrades.

    And even if you aren't missing the point it would almost seem like you're saying replaceable hardware on a computer isn't viable because a socket / video port gets updated too often, which is quite clearly not the case.

  • Walking_paradox

    You are correct, but remember the slogan "a phone worth keeping", for how much time? A year?

    Although it might not be the case with video cards, or sound cards, but processors and motherboards, get new, better, faster, upgraded sockets and shit like that so they have better performance... (ok, lets pretend that's the only reason), but almost every year a new gen of processors comes to the market with no retro compatibility... Just like mobile phones come out with new gen devices, every fucking year!

    But apart from that, the problems is what zatoichi stated, if this isn't for a really long term device, its going to be really expensive. But that's just my point of view

  • l3rn

    Yeah on retrospect I agree with you. Although to be fair the AM2+/3 socket I had lasted through quite a few cpu replacements but that's not really applicable to this argument. I concede my argument. There won't ever be a "Phone built to last" unless by last they mean not break.

  • zatoichi


  • boooo!

    Yes but for them to be modular they are also seriously oversized compared to laptops or tablets, which are not so modular.

  • Sergeant_Poop

    Although, most people are stuck with their phone for a couple years. I was stuck with my barely functioning phone for well over that because I had to wait until Verizon released the Galaxy S4. Why not get the S3? Because the S3 was already a year old at that point, and if I'm going to have this phone for 2 years, you bet your ass I want it to be as new as possible. This idea, depending on how it's implemented, would be great for incremental upgrades, rather than having to wait 2 years and then shell out anywhere from $300-$800 for a new phone.

  • disqus_k2QxOV9H7Z

    iPhones are not cheap.

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