Google hijacks Apple and IBM Models with New Modular Smartphone Technology

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By Jacob Maslow

saleswoman showing off iphone
Saleswoman displaying iphone to camera

When people normally think of smartphones, they expect these devices’ software to be customizable. You can mix and match different apps based on your needs. Unfortunately, you can’t do the same with the actual hardware capabilities of your phone. Unhappy with the camera your phone shipped with? Tough luck, buddy. Wish you can upgrade to a battery that actually lasts long enough for your needs? Keep wishing. The harsh reality for many smartphone users is that if they want better or different hardware features, they have to get a new phone or a new model of the phone they are using. They have to wait until the service contracts their hardware is fixed to for them to move on to the set of hardware features they want. If Google’s latest venture pans out, this will all change.

Taking a page from Apple’s App-based software paradigm, Google’s new Ara project will allow consumers to pick and choose among many different hardware options to assemble into a phone. You no longer have to settle with the standard configuration a phone manufacturer sets for you. You can look through a list of different components with different features and pick and choose which to assemble into your your phone. Think of it as puzzle pieces that snap together into a smartphone. You can play around with different screen options and different cameras among other modules.
The best part about the Ara project is Google is actually rolling it out into a test market. Google is in talks with mobile carriers in Puerto Rico so it can roll out it interchangeable parts phone system. What exactly can you customize? In addition to the screen and camera, you can also pick and choose which processor you’d like to power your phone. You have your choice of different manufacturers. This freedom of customization actually reminds me of the IBM PC open or ‘clone’ architecture. You can choose among a wide menu of motherboard, keyboard, monitor, hard drive, and other component manufacturers. Everything is standardized so everything fits into the machine you want. This might be the future of smartphones. Excellent move by Google. Why? All these devices will be powered by Android. Just as Microsoft ended up dominating the PC market by providing the software running all those customized PC clone boxes, Android will be the common link in an increasingly commodified smartphone market. Samsung, HTC, and Apple better start paying attention. If the Aria project is a commercial success, the smartphone market will be made up of completely generic Android-powered hardware made by no name Chinese manufacturers. Prices will crash and perhaps the majority of the globe’s population will be connected to the Web through their phones.
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