If you’ve been paying attention to tech news for the last few days, then you’re probably scratching your head over the latest designs to grace Google’s line of Android smartphones. They look like a crazy art project, a blend between retro-futuristic design and De Stijl blocks. No, this isn’t some contest entry from an art student – it’s Google’s new foray into modular phones, starting with Project Ara.
Beyond Just Looks
These Frankenstein phones aren’t just characterized by a blocky aesthetic – the entire phone is actually built out of several miniature parts, which are essentially “plug and play.” Did your camera just break? Well, instead of replacing your entire phone, you can just swap the camera out for a new one. This concept was demonstrated at the Project Ara unveiling, when the phone was dropped. The screen cracked, but that wasn’t a big deal, since the display could easily be swapped within seconds.
Build Your Own Smartphone
The current smartphone market locks consumers into a certain amount of selections, made available by cellular carriers. Device upgrade options are traditionally limited to one new device every two years for a subsidized price. Google’s modular smartphone will challenge what we mean by a “new device,” because in theory you could keep swapping parts to upgrade your phone incrementally. It’ll be interesting to see how Project Ara challenges the current model of phone upgrades.
Modular phones will also challenge the way we think about phone warranties. Companies like Apple thrive on Genius Bar charges and iPhone upgrades, especially for the unfortunate people who haven’t invested in their AppleCare Plus warranties. IPhones have proprietary parts that are extremely difficult for DIY techies to fix on their own. When modular phones hit stores, repairing broken components might be as simple as plugging in a new piece.
While it’ll be some time before modular phones become a part of everyday society, we might begin to see niche markets surface. Just take a look at the PC world: you’ve got hardware tailored for gaming, business, and casual use. We might begin to see a rise in specialty phones once modular components come out, with special features for gaming or business software solutions.
Modular, customizable phones will completely change the landscape of smartphone sales. Google’s Project Ara has the potential to disrupt current upgrade and warranty policies, while giving consumers greater control over their hardware. It’ll be very interesting to see how the cellular market shifts in preparation for modular phones.