Nov 24 AT 8:54 PM Nick Sarafolean 51 Comments

Does the idea of a modular phone appeal to you?

Motorola Project Ara parts

Ever have that feeling where you look at your phone that’s six months or a year old and think, “I really wish that I could just upgrade this one part and I wouldn’t need to get a new phone?” We all know that we have. Until very recently, the concept had always been as some kind of consumer dream. But with the creation of the Phonebloks campaign, everybody excitedly began to think doing so could  become reality. Unfortunately, we were left with nothing tangible from Phonebloks. Then came Motorola and Project Ara.

Even just one year ago, Motorola wouldn’t have even considered something like Project Ara. But since its buyout by Google, Motorola has become much more open to new ideas. We witnessed it with the Moto X and its customizable exterior design. And when Phonebloks came around, the higher-ups at Motorola said, “Hey, let’s try that!” Out of that came the spark that is Project Ara.

Project Ara is Motorola’s effort to create a truly customizable phone. A phone where you can switch components in and out as you wish. That’s traditionally something that’s been reserved to the PC industry , not in the smartphone world.  Samsung has also dabbled in it with their smart TVs, although most wouldn’t consider that to be as useful as a modular phone.

Think of it this way: You’re going on vacation and you want a better camera than what your phone is currently equipped with. In the current marketplace, you’d either have to buy a new phone or a separate camera to get the kind of quality that you want. But if you had a modular smartphone, you could simply pop out the existing camera and swap in a new one. You could even go whole hog and get something like a Nikon sensor with Zeiss glass and maybe even a xenon flash if you’re into that sort of thing. You could truly create the phone of your dreams.

In truth, the idea of a modular phone fulfills the wildest dreams of consumers. You wouldn’t believe how many people I’ve heard say that they got a new phone because of one specific feature. For some, it’s the camera. For others, it could be something like the display or the battery. But with a modular phone, you could just pop a new one of those things in. It’s an incredible solution to the woes of upgrading phones.

And now we bring the question to you: Does the idea of a modular phone appeal to you? Do you think that the idea of a modular phone could work? Comments. Below. Type.

A nerd at heart, Nick is an average person who has a passion for all things electronic. When not spending his time writing about the latest gadgets, Nick enjoys reading, dabbling in photography, and experimenting with anything and everything coffee. Should you wish to know more about him, you can follow him on Twitter @Zricon15.

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  • Plaston Mac

    Yes it’s a wonderful idea. I can change parts whenever i want.

  • redraider133

    I love the idea. Pricing will be key. No longer will you have to depend on a manufacturer and you can make the phone exactly how you want it.

  • nthoendel

    The issue here would be whether consumers would be willing to have bulkier, less integrated phones.

    • LukeT32

      Also how would software updates work? Just from watching development of ROMs on XDA the biggest hurdle they always have is different radios/cameras in each phone. So wouldn’t you need different firmware/software to make the new components work every time? I wonder if Google plans on making a new section in the play store for firmware/drivers. Perhaps something like windows update, etc.

  • ravish shetty

    After this concept is widely adopted, there won’t be phones based on sellers, instead only components based on sellers.

  • naypalm

    I think that if we move from buying a new phone every 6 months to upgrading parts of your phone that I can see less waste and less phones sent to landfills. This is a great idea!

    • scubabum

      Great comment. I never thought about the recycling aspect of the modular phone.
      Thanks.

    • Balls0926

      Way to paraphrase the Phonebloks video

  • A.Woodbury

    With the introduction of modular phones, we won’t be at the mercy of carriers and manufacturers. Consumers will be the ones designing the phones. I’m all for this idea and truly hope it becomes reality.

  • MyMilan

    Yes, it’s a great idea and makes a LOT of sense.

    Which is why they’ll never do it.

  • Warren S.

    I think it would be a good idea. And be able to keep components, and switch radios for markets. (gsm, cdma, lte) and maybe upgrades to tablets and other platforms. I bet it would make a whole new or revised industry.

    • deborahalvarad

      Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

  • DragonPhyre

    Yes please!

  • willyneu

    makes sense to me.
    Willy

  • Gijsbertus

    Yes. Please. But two things at least are important. Price. Compatability (i.e. no situation like we have/had in the PC – software world with modularity only being possible within the confines of one System and not between them).

  • Lu5N

    i like that i wouldnt waste money on hardware that i simply dont need for example the camera. I dont need a good camera on my phone but i need good internals and a good screen and maybe someone else thinks the camera is important but doesnt need internals so anyone buys exactly the phone he needs. I love the idea.

  • william mallesa

    its so fantastic android

  • Joshua

    In theory it seems brilliant. In execution, I think it would be almost impossible. How are you going to manage to have a high end speaker or camera attached to a phone, and have it be the same width and height as other components. I could have a raised bottom, and a raised top, then a shallow middle depending on where components go? I just don’t think it’s practical. Hey, it’s okay to dream though and innovation can result from projects like this. In it’s current incarnation, i doubt it’s at all doable.

  • romy134

    more stuff to lose… :/

  • any8

    NO, it would be very very expensive and difficult…… money wasting

  • spanner3003

    Yes so exited to hear of this have been waiting years for something just like this. :-D

  • Brian Houghton

    for me, It’d have to have a large screen and a stylus like the Galaxy Note Series. If so I would have no problem with it.

  • Ross Pendleton

    A truly customizable phone. Who can say no to that? I am certainly keeping an eye on Ara for now!

  • imS0ul

    Yeah! It’s an awesome idea! And assuming we could actually customise it (colours, materials), It’d be just amazing!

  • Kirk Schwarz

    Hey 11/24 they updated my nexus 7 to 4.4 just like u said been afraid to turn it on after the update to the samsung 10.1 tab2 weeks ago it took days to get it right again any suggestions help

    • schlongydongy

      Your nexus should be fine. Comment in a relevant thread next time, retard.

  • PaulieG

    Awesome concept but I do wonder how they are going to solve the socket connectors for the modules. Your average consumer is not going to have much idea on how to drive a surface mount zif socket, and a more basic socket is going to be susceptible to drops vibration etc. It’ll be interesting to see what comes of it!

  • Gonçalo Forte

    Why would any manufacturer support this technology? They make more money if people buy a new phone every 6 months… Its indeed a great idea for the final consumer but a very bad business idea for the manufacturers!

    • nivekkev

      They would also be making money on selling the parts/upgrades that are compatible with their base phone system.For those that don’t like the modular thing and still want to keep it simple or have no need for this type of phone the standard phones would still be sold. So no loss and possibly a new/renewed/renewable income source.

  • jamesvincentuk

    This is a great idea. the industry needs something new and fresh, as the Mobile Operators couldn’t innovate if we threw the book at them. anywho…
    This needs a chance to take off. BUT. The way it works is with Blocks. making it a very square/rectangle phone. There is a risk here of all phones looking the same. That’s if multiple manufacturers adopt this technology. It needs to be played with carefully. Also price needs to be considered.
    Any other thoughts on this?

  • Mil

    The concept sounds appealing but I think the problem would be that compatibility wouldn’t be as straightforward as it sounds. There could be horrible dependencies and compatibility issues due to size and other components. Like the modularity of a PC, sometimes you get into really weird issues such as this graphics card just doesn’t work with that motherboard even though the connections are good. Then there’s the whole aspect of this graphics card doesn’t fit in this PC case because this other component is too big. As soon as you start getting all these weird conditional dependencies for compatibility, then it turns into a big mess.

  • Lisa

    no more buying a new phone to get the ‘maxx’ batery life, I like it

  • Seth

    a good idea indeed. But will the phone producers agree with it since I think this move will slice a big amount from their sales. Just my raw opinion.

  • Seth

    a good idea indeed. But will the phone producers will not agree with it since I think this move will slice a big amount from their sales. Just my raw opinion.

  • Broseph Stalin

    I’m worried about software updates. There would have to be separate versions of the OS for every combination of CPU, GPU, radio, camera etc. etc.

    The concept is cool, but I don’t see it happening just yet.

    • tetracycloide

      CPU, GPU, and radios are all on the same chip I think.

    • ihatefanboys

      Im sure the component makers will have to produce their components in a uniform way, unified design. You only need one OS to run all the parts. If its made right that is.

  • tetracycloide

    Not sure what the point would be? Coming from a desktop, which I build from the ground up from individual components, the biggest advantage by far is the ability to slot in a new GPU between system overhauls without having to replace any other parts but on a phone, with an SoC, that’s not going to be an option even if modular is an option. Any SoC change worth making is most likely going to involve a motherboard and RAM change as well so the saving there would be minimal. Expanding the RAM or the NAND storage would be nice though although we’re already slowly killing off the latter since that’s almost exactly what SD cards were. The only other thing I can think of that might be nice is swapping the same internals to a new body which might also be cool.

  • ihatefanboys

    Whats ironic about smartphone users is that theyll love this concept, theyll meticulously pick all the different components, cautiously assemble it, and then completely hate it.

  • telmon

    Interesting concept…sounds similar to modu:

    http://www.gsmarena.com/modu-phones-63.php

    One feasible way i see to make this without it becoming some hulking brick of a phone is for moto to develop all the components and release them themselves and/or if there are any 3rd party modules, they would validate those modules through some program via a Moto-Cert program…for a fee. This is a very ambitious thing….verrrry difficult as you don’t only have potential compatibility problems component to component and with the OS, but you also have interference issues…mainly with antennas for BT, WiFi, and Cell reception (placement, orientation, geometry, and other external factors can have a major impact on these). If they pull it off, i would be more than happy to give a whirl.

  • John Patrick

    Hell yeah!

  • coop

    I think it is a great idea. As long as it falls under the umbrella of one company, I think it should be fairly easy for updates to be handled. Think computer – different drivers for different hardware with a unifying OS. Unfortunately, the way cell phones are handled in the US, I can see our country being one of the last to adopt this idea due to our networks.

  • android underground

    Great idea in theory, but even laptops won’t let you change much beyond drives, RAM, and the occasional extended battery. Phones will be worse.

    The size constraints will make most swappable components take more space than necessary to cater for replacements, and in a device where every cubic milimeter counts…

    It may work for tablets, but for now cramming modules into a diet candybar phone is something entirely different.

  • aranea

    I like the idea but I don’t think it’ll be a mainstream thing. Because more choice is not always good for customers (yes studies show that). 5-6 choices is good for most things more than that may put people into a paralyses. How many people actually built custom computers? Not many. As someone pointed out this makes upgrading software a hustle. You’ll have to figure out to get the camera upgrade while maybe waiting for cpu upgrade.

    Don’t get me wrong I love the idea and for the right price I’ll try it and probably love it but I don’t see my father for example using it. Unless I do all the maintenance.

  • donger

    Would buy parts every month lol.

  • Shohan

    Superb idea!!! Want it ASAP

  • gaina dragos andrei

    Hell yeah . Best ideea ever .upgrade your phone like u have done in the past with your desktop. No more consumism . Throw away the phone just because your apps need 1 more gig of ram ? Never again . Please do it . Pleeeease.i will buy the for all my family . Minimum 10 pcs .

  • mkaz

    I think it is a fantastic idea, but still needs lots of refining before I would ever make the switch and buy a phone like this. I think aesthetically and as far as size and weight are concerned, modular phones would loose out to other smartphones. But practically speaking there are some amazing benefits. So like I said, if they could refine some of the issues with bulk and things like “how well will the parts actually fit together”, “how well will they stay in place” and “how much is this sort of thing going to really cost” then this style of phone could really take off.

  • trait tech

    Super Idea

  • Oscar A Marquez

    We already do it with desktop computer, also it should be done with laptops, tablets and phones.

  • arman

    i mean, the reason why im here is in fact because i am curious to know whether i can do this with my current phone, but i mean if they make such phones available, with adjusting parts, heck, who could not love it, it would be like a car, your screen breaks and now you get the higher qulity screen and maybe upgrade the speaker and camera while you’re at it. Plus i really think phones should come with decent cameras, i mean something at least as good as a point and shoot, i mean yes, a big ass lens will increase size and weight but the option should be available to those seeking an all in one system they don’t need to throw away every year or two.

  1. Plaston MacGuest 1 year ago

    Yes it’s a wonderful idea. I can change parts whenever i want.

  2. I love the idea. Pricing will be key. No longer will you have to depend on a manufacturer and you can make the phone exactly how you want it.

  3. The issue here would be whether consumers would be willing to have bulkier, less integrated phones.

    • Also how would software updates work? Just from watching development of ROMs on XDA the biggest hurdle they always have is different radios/cameras in each phone. So wouldn’t you need different firmware/software to make the new components work every time? I wonder if Google plans on making a new section in the play store for firmware/drivers. Perhaps something like windows update, etc.

  4. ravish shettyGuest 1 year ago

    After this concept is widely adopted, there won’t be phones based on sellers, instead only components based on sellers.

  5. I think that if we move from buying a new phone every 6 months to upgrading parts of your phone that I can see less waste and less phones sent to landfills. This is a great idea!

  6. With the introduction of modular phones, we won’t be at the mercy of carriers and manufacturers. Consumers will be the ones designing the phones. I’m all for this idea and truly hope it becomes reality.

  7. Yes, it’s a great idea and makes a LOT of sense.

    Which is why they’ll never do it.

  8. Warren S.Guest 1 year ago

    I think it would be a good idea. And be able to keep components, and switch radios for markets. (gsm, cdma, lte) and maybe upgrades to tablets and other platforms. I bet it would make a whole new or revised industry.

    • Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

  9. willyneuGuest 1 year ago

    makes sense to me.
    Willy

  10. GijsbertusGuest 1 year ago

    Yes. Please. But two things at least are important. Price. Compatability (i.e. no situation like we have/had in the PC – software world with modularity only being possible within the confines of one System and not between them).

  11. i like that i wouldnt waste money on hardware that i simply dont need for example the camera. I dont need a good camera on my phone but i need good internals and a good screen and maybe someone else thinks the camera is important but doesnt need internals so anyone buys exactly the phone he needs. I love the idea.

  12. william mallesaGuest 1 year ago

    its so fantastic android

  13. JoshuaGuest 1 year ago

    In theory it seems brilliant. In execution, I think it would be almost impossible. How are you going to manage to have a high end speaker or camera attached to a phone, and have it be the same width and height as other components. I could have a raised bottom, and a raised top, then a shallow middle depending on where components go? I just don’t think it’s practical. Hey, it’s okay to dream though and innovation can result from projects like this. In it’s current incarnation, i doubt it’s at all doable.

  14. more stuff to lose… :/

  15. any8Guest 1 year ago

    NO, it would be very very expensive and difficult…… money wasting

  16. spanner3003Guest 1 year ago

    Yes so exited to hear of this have been waiting years for something just like this. :-D

  17. Brian HoughtonGuest 1 year ago

    for me, It’d have to have a large screen and a stylus like the Galaxy Note Series. If so I would have no problem with it.

  18. Ross PendletonGuest 1 year ago

    A truly customizable phone. Who can say no to that? I am certainly keeping an eye on Ara for now!

  19. Yeah! It’s an awesome idea! And assuming we could actually customise it (colours, materials), It’d be just amazing!

  20. Kirk SchwarzGuest 1 year ago

    Hey 11/24 they updated my nexus 7 to 4.4 just like u said been afraid to turn it on after the update to the samsung 10.1 tab2 weeks ago it took days to get it right again any suggestions help

  21. PaulieGGuest 1 year ago

    Awesome concept but I do wonder how they are going to solve the socket connectors for the modules. Your average consumer is not going to have much idea on how to drive a surface mount zif socket, and a more basic socket is going to be susceptible to drops vibration etc. It’ll be interesting to see what comes of it!

  22. Gonçalo ForteGuest 1 year ago

    Why would any manufacturer support this technology? They make more money if people buy a new phone every 6 months… Its indeed a great idea for the final consumer but a very bad business idea for the manufacturers!

    • They would also be making money on selling the parts/upgrades that are compatible with their base phone system.For those that don’t like the modular thing and still want to keep it simple or have no need for this type of phone the standard phones would still be sold. So no loss and possibly a new/renewed/renewable income source.

  23. jamesvincentukGuest 1 year ago

    This is a great idea. the industry needs something new and fresh, as the Mobile Operators couldn’t innovate if we threw the book at them. anywho…
    This needs a chance to take off. BUT. The way it works is with Blocks. making it a very square/rectangle phone. There is a risk here of all phones looking the same. That’s if multiple manufacturers adopt this technology. It needs to be played with carefully. Also price needs to be considered.
    Any other thoughts on this?

  24. MilGuest 1 year ago

    The concept sounds appealing but I think the problem would be that compatibility wouldn’t be as straightforward as it sounds. There could be horrible dependencies and compatibility issues due to size and other components. Like the modularity of a PC, sometimes you get into really weird issues such as this graphics card just doesn’t work with that motherboard even though the connections are good. Then there’s the whole aspect of this graphics card doesn’t fit in this PC case because this other component is too big. As soon as you start getting all these weird conditional dependencies for compatibility, then it turns into a big mess.

  25. LisaGuest 1 year ago

    no more buying a new phone to get the ‘maxx’ batery life, I like it

  26. SethGuest 1 year ago

    a good idea indeed. But will the phone producers agree with it since I think this move will slice a big amount from their sales. Just my raw opinion.

  27. SethGuest 1 year ago

    a good idea indeed. But will the phone producers will not agree with it since I think this move will slice a big amount from their sales. Just my raw opinion.

  28. I’m worried about software updates. There would have to be separate versions of the OS for every combination of CPU, GPU, radio, camera etc. etc.

    The concept is cool, but I don’t see it happening just yet.

  29. tetracycloideGuest 1 year ago

    Not sure what the point would be? Coming from a desktop, which I build from the ground up from individual components, the biggest advantage by far is the ability to slot in a new GPU between system overhauls without having to replace any other parts but on a phone, with an SoC, that’s not going to be an option even if modular is an option. Any SoC change worth making is most likely going to involve a motherboard and RAM change as well so the saving there would be minimal. Expanding the RAM or the NAND storage would be nice though although we’re already slowly killing off the latter since that’s almost exactly what SD cards were. The only other thing I can think of that might be nice is swapping the same internals to a new body which might also be cool.

  30. Whats ironic about smartphone users is that theyll love this concept, theyll meticulously pick all the different components, cautiously assemble it, and then completely hate it.

  31. telmonGuest 1 year ago

    Interesting concept…sounds similar to modu:

    http://www.gsmarena.com/modu-phones-63.php

    One feasible way i see to make this without it becoming some hulking brick of a phone is for moto to develop all the components and release them themselves and/or if there are any 3rd party modules, they would validate those modules through some program via a Moto-Cert program…for a fee. This is a very ambitious thing….verrrry difficult as you don’t only have potential compatibility problems component to component and with the OS, but you also have interference issues…mainly with antennas for BT, WiFi, and Cell reception (placement, orientation, geometry, and other external factors can have a major impact on these). If they pull it off, i would be more than happy to give a whirl.

  32. John PatrickGuest 1 year ago

    Hell yeah!

  33. coopGuest 1 year ago

    I think it is a great idea. As long as it falls under the umbrella of one company, I think it should be fairly easy for updates to be handled. Think computer – different drivers for different hardware with a unifying OS. Unfortunately, the way cell phones are handled in the US, I can see our country being one of the last to adopt this idea due to our networks.

  34. android undergroundGuest 1 year ago

    Great idea in theory, but even laptops won’t let you change much beyond drives, RAM, and the occasional extended battery. Phones will be worse.

    The size constraints will make most swappable components take more space than necessary to cater for replacements, and in a device where every cubic milimeter counts…

    It may work for tablets, but for now cramming modules into a diet candybar phone is something entirely different.

  35. I like the idea but I don’t think it’ll be a mainstream thing. Because more choice is not always good for customers (yes studies show that). 5-6 choices is good for most things more than that may put people into a paralyses. How many people actually built custom computers? Not many. As someone pointed out this makes upgrading software a hustle. You’ll have to figure out to get the camera upgrade while maybe waiting for cpu upgrade.

    Don’t get me wrong I love the idea and for the right price I’ll try it and probably love it but I don’t see my father for example using it. Unless I do all the maintenance.

  36. Would buy parts every month lol.

  37. ShohanGuest 1 year ago

    Superb idea!!! Want it ASAP

  38. gaina dragos andreiGuest 1 year ago

    Hell yeah . Best ideea ever .upgrade your phone like u have done in the past with your desktop. No more consumism . Throw away the phone just because your apps need 1 more gig of ram ? Never again . Please do it . Pleeeease.i will buy the for all my family . Minimum 10 pcs .

  39. I think it is a fantastic idea, but still needs lots of refining before I would ever make the switch and buy a phone like this. I think aesthetically and as far as size and weight are concerned, modular phones would loose out to other smartphones. But practically speaking there are some amazing benefits. So like I said, if they could refine some of the issues with bulk and things like “how well will the parts actually fit together”, “how well will they stay in place” and “how much is this sort of thing going to really cost” then this style of phone could really take off.

  40. trait techGuest 1 year ago

    Super Idea

  41. Oscar A MarquezGuest 1 year ago

    We already do it with desktop computer, also it should be done with laptops, tablets and phones.

  42. armanGuest 1 year ago

    i mean, the reason why im here is in fact because i am curious to know whether i can do this with my current phone, but i mean if they make such phones available, with adjusting parts, heck, who could not love it, it would be like a car, your screen breaks and now you get the higher qulity screen and maybe upgrade the speaker and camera while you’re at it. Plus i really think phones should come with decent cameras, i mean something at least as good as a point and shoot, i mean yes, a big ass lens will increase size and weight but the option should be available to those seeking an all in one system they don’t need to throw away every year or two.