Geoffrey Wiseman

Skeptical of Motorola's Ara, Too

As I wrote before, I'm deeply skeptical of the idea that we can make truly modular mobile phones out of blocks that don't come with significant trade-offs that make them unsuited for most people.

This morning, The Verge reports that Motorola has unveiled their 'Ara' project to make modular mobile phones, and will be working with Phonebloks. (Hat tip to Ian Tuck for pointing this out.)

This doesn't really change my skepticism in any way. I'm curious to see what comes of the venture, but I don't expect this to produce a phone that is a real hit. I'm not even sure it will produce something that Motorola / Google will actually sell.

The mobile phone business is very competitive. Dedicating hardware space to an endoskeleton, modular unit covers, interoperability hardware and connectors will either reduce the space within the phone for things like batteries, or will increase the size of the phone. Allowing things to separate will have a an impact on the durability of the device as a whole. Flexibility and modularity will incur a cost.

Similarly, flexibility has a software cost. Compatibility testing and fragmentation are already a bit of an issue in Android, I can only imagine thiat would increase when a particular model of phone can come in a nearly-infinite array of combinations.

Anyway, time will tell. I wish Project Ara luck, but I remain deeply skeptical.

Update: This Anandtech article by Joshua Ho and the associated comments both show that my skepticism has company and that there are other concerns (e.g. FCC approval) that I hadn't even considered.