Over the next few years, the landscape of mobile phone retail could change significantly.
Imagine a phone with individually upgradable parts, one which wouldn’t need to be thrown away if it began slowing down, or if the camera broke, a phone that could simply be swapped for a new one.
Well that’s the idea behind Google’s latest prospect: Project Ara.
The basic aim is to let customers buy the base unit, which is for all intents and purposes just a screen, and then leave it up to the consumer to add the rest of the desired components.
The modular nature of this phone also opens up component production to a wider market. Senhiesser has already announced it is working on a speaker module for the phone and no doubt others will soon follow.
“It’s about getting exactly what you want in a phone,” said Patrick Moorhead, Principal Technology Analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy.
“For a lot of people, their primary reason for buying a phone could be social media. For another person it could be taking pictures. For other people it may be gaming. It’s all about customisation.”
This new approach will open up the market to new companies which didn’t previously have the resources or capabilities of producing a whole phone themselves. The increase in competition will drive down prices over time, making smartphone ownership a much cheaper prospect.
This type of handset also means that users won’t have to wait months or even years for the latest innovations. As soon as something new comes onto the market, consumers will instantly be able to buy the module and slot it into their device.
If widely adopted, the Modular phone could be the successor to the Smartphone and as a result, could make 24 month contracts redundant.
When it launches, the base for Project Ara is expected to retail for $50(£32) and it is believed a good phone will be able to be put together for just over £100. This is cheap enough for consumers not to feel the need to pay for network subsidised phones, instead shoppers will go for sim only contacts that offer more value for money, without being tied into a lengthy contract.
The upgrade friendly way the phone is designed means that it could well be cheaper to buy a new individual module, in the event they get damaged, than get the phone insured.
The idea of a modular type phone has been around for a few years now but the concept did not receive wide spread recognition until Dave Hakkens Phonebloks video was released last year.
Since Hakkens released the video, Google has approached him to partner with it on Project Ara.
In a blog post on the Project Ara website, Google said: “When we saw the video we decided to partner with Dave, since his idea was similar in concept to what we were working on in Project Ara.
Dave runs the Phonebloks community which encourages the industry to reduce electronic waste.
He also joins us, on occasion, to get sneak peeks at the Ara development team and prototypes, and makes awesome YouTube videos documenting our progress.”
It is quite conceivable that in the future, our screen will be made by Motorola, the battery by Yulsa and the storage by HP, all chosen by the owner because each brand specifically fitted their individual needs.
This could be the single biggest moment in mobile phone history since the launch of the Nokia 3310 or the Apple iPhone.