Open software arguably took off at the outset of the Android operating system. It’s open-source nature enabled a different approach to creating applications and customizing system platforms than, say, iOS which is a closed platform and stricter about its standards for software developers. But new projects cropping up are looking towards open hardware — a term the tech world is much less familiar with for the obvious reason being that hardware is much less possible to change as the user desires. Motorola’s Project Ara wants to fix that.
The company published a blog post on October 28 announcing its foray into open hardware — meaning it is exploring how to create a phone made up of individual blocks that all perform specific functions and can be replaced separately and customized for power and processing.
The project sounds strikingly similar to Phonebloks — an idea started by David Hakkens based on the same concept, and described in a YouTube video that went viral earlier this year as his project seeks crowd-funded support. Hakkens’ idea begins with finding a way to reduce electronic waste and ends with a customizable phone that would enable users to switch out modules of the device each time one petered out. Indeed, Phonebloks is partnering with Motorola as the two companies explore how to bring such a device to market. If they do, it could change the face of the global smartphone industry.
Samsung and Apple are notorious for their chokehold on the top two spots in global smartphone sales, with Samsung taking the far lead. They are also notorious for their devices’ “planned obsolescence” — a term that gets tossed around the tech world every time Apple comes out with a new iPhone and its older model begins to operate poorly at the same time. The users who have realized that big smartphone makers build their devices intentionally to break or shut down are the ones whose interests will be piqued at the idea of a phone they might never have to replace lock, stock and barrel again.
There are many other factors at play in order for an open hardware smartphone to take off in market — price and its software are two. It will likely be some time before consumers see a block-based device for sale as it’s just in the idea stages for now. But it is a project worth following.