Motorola and Phoneblocks Kick Off Modular Phone Movement with Project Ara

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LatiosXT

While I like the idea of Phoneblocks and what it's trying to do, the problem comes with implementation. It can't work like how the video describes because electrical interconnects don't work like that. But if they can create something standard like motherboard formfactors, then I'll be excited for one of these.

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MaximumMike

You do realize that Motorola already has its own modular technology? They recently brought phoneblocks on board to help out, but don't expect the technology to be identical. You'll likely see many elemnts not present in the phoneblocks video. It's called Project Ara, and not phoneblocks, for a reason.

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Obsidian

Where does the NSA wiretap and tracking component click in? ;) ... I jest, clearly all that is reported at the carrier level via software 'features'.

In all seriousness this is an admirable idea to try and cut down on electronic waste. If there was a way to coordinate a bunch of hardware manufacturers to work together for a phone motherboard standard of some sort this could be the next age of the personal computing device ... just a lot smaller than the computers most MPC'ers are used to building.

Another potential implication is that the battery would continue to be replaceable, a feature that's becoming less common.

I don't think this modular phone will catch on, even though it's a decent idea.

The future is in wrist-worn flexible screens and systems, or roll up tubes with a screen 'scroll' inside. The watch movement is headed that direction but those devices just aren't there yet, and no one wants to burn their arm playing a game on their device. Glasses (Google Glass) will eventually find a niche, but due to the increasing number of prescription-eye wearers these may never achieve popularity levels that justify large production of consumer-level hardware. Law enforcement, military, reality programing and extreme sports will always find a place for a camera system that sees what the wearer sees, but the 'rest of us' don't want to be on video feeds 24/7.

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RUSENSITIVESWEETNESS

Reminds me that it's time to upgrade my toaster's heat coils with the latest firmware update.

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legionera

I can just see all 3rd party parts sold by shady Asians on ebay. It will be an epic time.

I don't believe that it is worth it to have that actually. Building your own phone out of bricks... and when something dies, you buy only that part to change it. Hmmm... well, the issue is that technology goes fast and devices get newer updates with every generation. I am talking about NFC, WIDI, and all other sweet stuff that a plain board, may not be able to handle at one point. Then you will end up replacing all your parts for the same price as a new phone, but you get to brag with an old phone.

So, basically there's not much of a difference. They will just open the doors for another market (and more factories in China), that sells the same stuff, but at higher price because they are modulized.

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Joji

I had a similar idea only it had something to do with cars. My mom's car is 12 years old... and it still runs great. However, some parts are rusting and it costs a lot of money just to change that part. That's where interchangeable parts come into place. It's very similar to PhoneBlok's idea. But it's an idea. I know nothing of the insides of cars.

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jason2393

Modular cars is something GM was working on back when Hydrogen was going to be the fuel of the future. The problem with the idea is that the shape and size of a car has a massive impact on usability, fuel economy, and safety, and there's the question of what to do with the modular parts you're not using on your car that day. A phone's modular parts might fill a small drawer, but a car's modular parts would fill a room.

There are many aftermarket companies that make replacement parts for cars, and many can be used to customize your car.

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devin3627

the only benefit i see here is mobile gaming.

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fung0

This is a neat concept, but I'm not sure I see the economic justification for it. By the time you want to replace, say, the CPU, you'll probably be ready for a new screen as well. How much cheaper will it be to replace two or three modules, compared to just buying a new phone? Especially once phones become well and truly commoditized?

On top of this, there will be an inevitable engineering overhead to the modularity, so the Ara phone will likely be thicker and heavier than a non-modular equivalent, regardless of what you plug into it.

Modularity works moderately well for hulking desktop PCs. (And even so, I've never found it worthwhile to upgrade a CPU.) Modularity has never had much traction with laptops. How much headway is it likely to make with handhelds? At a guess: not much.

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AFDozerman

Always assumed that phoneblocs was just another kickstarter project that would never come to fruition. Good to see big people are listening.

I always said that it would take a major shift in the way things are done to move me away from my smartphone of choice. This may be it.

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Hey.That_Dude

This sounds intriguing. I wonder how much thicker this will make the phone, as that's always been the problem with fully modular laptops. Although, since it has to stay at such a low wattage it might be more feasible than laptops (which vary from 5W to 180W).

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AFDozerman

The tradeoff of thickness will probably be easily ignored. The big dealbreaker for some will probably be cases. How do you make a case for something like this where there isn't a set target for size and dimensions?

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kiaghi7

Well just like with the current market of innumerable form-factors of phones, the obvious circle within which all parts orbit is the dimensions of the screen.

As such, there would likely be a few known form-factors of screen size. Likely a small one to be extra compact, a modest sized one to be comparable to most iphones/androids/smart-phones, and a very large screen perhaps like the largest smart phones and small tablets. Perhaps additional base boards could come out allowing for small, medium, large, like those I mentioned, and even full on tablet sized ones too... Perhaps even with "expansion port" blocks that could allow for peripherals to make it into a modest nettop or laptop.

The "base board" is also an established quantity (for a given unit) as it has to act as the interface between the screen and all the hardware, therefore the only significant variable is the blocks on the back, which also adhere to a prescribed available area on that base board.

The only presumed variable would be thickness of those additional blocks, which it would also be safe to presume would need to be within spec dimensions to actually be made to fit and function properly without hanging out of the back side like a brick.

Anyway, after all of that, given that size is more easily based upon the screen and base board size, case size can therefore be extrapolated for a given screen/base board since the final result will therefore be within the XYZ dimensions regardless of what features its blocks allow for.

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Gikero

While not everyone has easy access to them, 3D printers may help solve this issue. The whole idea is still out there and has yet to be proven. IF and when it comes to market, I will be very interested. Not without it's own downsides, but it is still a awesome idea.

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MaximumMike

I think this is revolutionary. I can't wait for this to come to market. So much of what we do is tied to our smartphones, and more and more of what we WILL be doing will be done on smartphones. It only makes sense that we should be able to customize the hardware to our liking. On a side note, this will make for another interesting discussion regarding what is and is not a PC.

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Gikero

I am sure there will be limitations. I LOVE the idea though. Hope to see more of this.

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spazimspaz

Now if these guys would branch off into other electronics such as laptops and tvs that would be nice. I've got a 6 year old laptop that I've upgraded to the limits and I am sad to slowly watch it grow older and outdated everyday. If they had modular parts for laptops then I'd be the first one in line!

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vrmlbasic

+1.

Intel motherboards need something like this badly, so the consumer can "fight back" when Intel gimps their memory speed (older boards only), USB 3 functionality, PCI lanes or SATA setup.

I have an older laptop that is being held back by Intel forcing the RAM to run at 83% of its rated speed and its SSD to run at 1/4th (arguably 1/2th) its rated speed.

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MaximumMike

I know I'm nit picking here, but you do know you don't need the 'th' when writing fractions, right? It's implied when you read the fraction. Sorry to nit pick but I have a hard time not reading your comments as "one fouthth" and "one halfth". :P