It wasn't so long ago that a bit of doubt was expressed about the smartphone's ability to innovate much further, and that most innovations would likely come from the software on a device as opposed to the device itself. Google (News - Alert), however, may be poised to break that concept open with its Project Ara smartphone, and current word says this may well hit sooner than expected besides.
The new reports out of the recent Google developers conference—delivered at last report by no less than Project Ara's own Paul Eremenko—say that the release of Project Ara is set to hit in January 2015, and will basically be just a frame to which users can add desired components according to what said users would like the phone to do. The device will be available for as little as $50, and will come with screen, processor, and Wi-Fi connectivity, which in turn will allow users to add desired components later. It's even being specifically referred to as the “Grey Phone (News - Alert)” due to its specific coloration, which in turn is supposed to fuel a desire to customize the device further.
Customization, meanwhile, is set to be fairly extensive. A horde of possible options are set to be made available, from the camera to the GPS to external speakers and beyond, and the Project Ara team was reportedly putting on quite the show at the developers' conference to try and get more developers in and developing for the platform. Some are even looking to Project Ara to represent a whole new era for smartphones, in which the way that the devices are bought and sold is entirely different from how it is now, with users making upgrades and replacements as the need arises instead of having one-size-fits-most devices that are dependent on software for innovation.
Indeed, this is a development that could bode quite well for one particular segment: wearable tech. While Project Ara on its own represents a whole new level of innovation in smartphones, and one that's probably a bit overdue, consider further what this modular design strategy could mean for that smartwatch. Being able to put a smartphone's functionality—a 4G radio, a GPS, and similar—into a small block of plastic suggests that the same could be done for the smartwatch. Picture a hub-and-spokes design, where here, the hub is the central screen of a smartwatch, and the spokes are modules of the smartwatch. That's a big possibility, and a potentially great way to break smartwatches of the smartphone connection, better allowing smartwatches to serve more as stand-alone devices. Leaving that possibility aside, the idea of a modular smartphone that can be assembled—and thus paid for—in increments might be a great way to draw users into the pool and make more users consider upgrading to smartphones, particularly if the service costs aren't too egregious. After all, how many people out there look at the smartphone and then reconsider, leery of the two-year contract in an environment where jobs are seldom assured past even a two-week mark? The modular smartphone may be just the solution.
Only time will tell if Project Ara hits shelves, or if it can shake up smartphone innovation throughout the world and bring new power to wearables. But it's not a bad bet by any stretch, and it may be the start of something really impressive.
Edited by Maurice Nagle
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