Motorola's Project Ara aims to create an Android-style ecosystem for hardware

Motorola's Project Ara aims to create an Android-style ecosystem for hardware

Summary: Google's handset arm has taken the wraps off a new initiative to build modular phones.

A selection of Project Ara's modules. Image: Motorola

Having come to dominate the smartphone OS market, Android has built up a huge ecosystem around it. Now Google is hoping to pull off a similar feat in hardware through its handset arm, Motorola.

Motorola's Project Ara, announced on Monday, combines a smartphone exoskeleton with a variety of hardware modules that can be used to customise the device.

"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," Paul Eremenko, part of the Project Ara team, wrote in a Motorola blog post.

The idea is for phone buyers to be able to stipulate more of the hardware included in their device when they buy it, and to have the ability to swap out components when they want to upgrade or if anything breaks.

The first module developers kit is expected by the end of this winter, according to Motorola. There's no official word on what modules will be available, but Eremenko said they could include application processors, displays, keyboards, battery, or pulse oximeter, a piece of hardware used to measure the oxygenation of a person's blood.

Motorola will begin recruiting 'Ara scouts' over the next few months to help decide the future direction of the project.

It's been working on the idea for around a year, with help from Phonebloks, a company that's already making a modular phone.

Project Ara follows in the footsteps of the Moto X, launched earlier this year. When Motorola debuted the device, it talked up the phone's hardware customisation options to would-be smartphone buyers, saying the handset could be configured in 2,000 different combinations with different choices of front and back colour, accents, and memory.

Further reading

Topics: Mobility, Hardware, Smartphones

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Can't see the mobile network providers liking this....

    This could actually finally cause the mobile network providers to differentiate on service level, price and not use exclusives with phone manufacturers to differentiate deals...all going to provide a healthier competition, and I could see other manufacturers following suit to create module platform standard.
    Carl White
    • True...

      But T-Mobile proved that the carriers will have to fall in line with what's becoming the latest trend - give the people what they want.

      Who would have ever thought that the smallest of all the carriers would have shaken the big carriers to their core? And yet, they all had to change because of T-Mobile's new direction.

      If Motorola can pull this off - and if they get support from T-Mobile - it will force the other carriers and other manufactures to make changes. After all, if you buy a phone from T-Mobile, you're already paying retail for it. So they don't have any reason to block a build-your-own device. If people can build their own device, bring it to a carrier that gives them better plans for less money without contract, the other carriers will have to respond whether they like it or not.

      What I'm interested in seeing is if Moto can sustain such a model. If so, other manufacturers will join the party.
  • Fantastic concept

    We joked about it in the office and tweeted that we doubted it would take off after reading about Phoneblox but we all agreed that it would be a cool concept. I'm astounded that this utterly brilliant concept is going to be put into use. I've always wanted certain features that my current hardware didn't support. It sounds like something straight out of a science fiction film. Here's hoping it succeeds.
    James Stevenson
  • Size

    How about the overall size of the device and therefore it's screen size? Is it just the guts that's customizable? I imagine some things need to be standardized.
  • About time!

    We already build our PC's, why not our phones? I mean a lot of people spend more on a phone than on a computer, so why not! Creating standards is going to be very technically exciting. I for one know I'd love to be working at Phonebloks.
  • I had recommended this based to a Motorola competitor....

    About 1.5 years ago. The company, who is supposed to be more progressive than Moto, looked at me like I was crazy.

    Create a device that contains base memory, radio boards with Chipset and antenna to get it approved through the carriers and let the user customize screen, camera, battery and the back design, Heck, they could even have a QWERTY keyboard if they want one.

    Let anyone create a compatible accessory or part for the above, as long as they pay you a small royalty and own the accessories ecosystem.

    The first thing that came out of their mouth was "How do we make money"? My answer was "Would you rather make $100 on 1 million handsets or $5 on 20 million on aftermarket add-ons, $30 on 1 million base units and $10 on 5 million OEM add-ons if this catches on? Tinkerers would continue to upgrade their parts, creating a constant stream of revenue, as would upgraders. You would only need 1~4 device configurations a year, instead of slapping a new phone design with the same internals.

    They didn't get it. I hope Motorola does.