Let’s examine three trends in our technology-riddled society today. One, the simplest one: technology is growing at a rapid pace. We haven’t even settled with quad-core phones and 4K TVs yet, but octo-core and 5K technologies are already barreling their ways into our lives. Two, it’s commonplace to change phones every one or two iterations for the upgraded features, rather than because your old phone broke down. The smartphone race is a one-upmanship that sees companies compete to release the most high-end phone by the end of the year. Three, the PC master race enjoys a different kind of upgrade scheme. While it’s not exactly a trend, PCs have enjoyed a counterculture scheme to what we already have, which makes it interesting. You don’t see PC users lining up for new PCs every year. They upgrade their PCs one piece at a time, several years spaced out.
What do these trends have in common? Individually, they represent the industry’s present. Together, they represent the industry’s future. If you’ve been hanging around the water cooler with techies, you’ve probably heard of “Project ARA” being whispered around. Project ARA is a culmination of several years’ and several companies’ research and engineering. It’s been on the grapevine for a while now, but with very little solid developments, it’s hard to pick up on it. But this 2015, it’s slowly picking up speed. Better hop on this bullet train before it goes from 0-60 in a second.
Project ARA is a modular smartphone currently being developed by Google. To be clear, it’s not the next Nexus phone. Heck, it’s not even a proper Google phone. This smartphone is composed of many smaller modules. There’s one for the RAM, the camera, the storage, the GPU. These units won’t come from Google, but from many different third-party manufacturers. Only the framework will come from Google. Here’s a recent sample: Sennheiser is coming out with amp modules that enhance the listening experience and audio quality of the phones.
Here’s how it works: you buy the basic Project ARA package from Google. You can then exchange the different modules for those of your own preference. From the RAM, down to the actual screen. Google will develop its own “Play Store” for the hardware modules featuring modules from third-party developers like Samsung, Motorola, and Sennheiser. Like a proper Play Store, you can also get custom ones from small indie developers.
Similar to PCs, you can get an entry-level configuration if you’re looking for a simple phone with basic functions. If you’re the mobile gamer, you can exchange the processor, RAM, and GPU to a faster one. If you’re a smartphone photographer, you might want to get a 13MP shooter with optical lens. And these aren’t hard to swap, either. You can swap different modules while the phone is still on like a photographer swapping out lens from macro to wide angle. You don’t need to reboot. You can even swap the battery while the phone is working. All modules will be hot-swappable except the CPU and the display.
We won’t see only the same set of modules. The hardware Play Store won’t be flooded with different versions of RAM modules. Developers are also building quirkier, very specialized modules. Want to clamp on a breathalyzer? Or a fingerprint scanner? Those are just some of the modules that are currently in the works.
On the software side, it’ll run a version of Android Lollipop. Project ARA will have its own dedicated apps. One example is a module locking app. Modules will be firmly locked in place so they won’t explode like a Lego tower when dropped. The only way to remove a module is by “ejecting” it with the dedicated app on the phone.
Having exchangeable modules offers a lot of opportunities and changes too, especially with the design aspect. Users won’t be lining up for new phones, but for new modules. And they can do it online. Smartphones won’t be about brand supremacy for once, but may actually be about design. Imagine perfectly designed, customized, and organized smartphones. Users won’t be limited to sleek blacks and smooth aluminum. There may actually be room for artistic license outside of a simple hard case.
Project ARA is expected to come out later this 2015. Or at least, an early version will be open for testing. It will be available in small, medium, and large variants. Of course, pricing is a touchy subject given that its other modules are separately priced. But Google wants the basic pack to cost only $50 to produce. That’s only around Php2,200. But take note that this is just a production cost. Retail price will be determined by retailers. As for availability here, it’s a hard to tell now, but if Google is planning such a grand plan, you can expect the availability to be more worldwide than the Nexus.