Google's Project Ara: 10 Ways It Could Change Smartphone Design

By Don Reisinger  |  Posted 2014-03-03 Print this article Print

As Mobile World Congress showed recently, the mobile industry is changing at a rapid pace. Mobile handset makers are trying to find the next big feature that will deliver the most value to customers, and today's consumers and enterprise users are trying to find the product that most satisfies their needs. For Google, the best way to achieve its goal of delivering the best mobile experience to the largest number of customers is potentially through the use of modularity. And that modularity will be possible, the company argues, thanks to Project Ara, an initiative first developed by the Advanced Technologies team at Motorola that is now part of the Android division at Google. Project Ara was first announced last year, but has again caught the eye of the news media, following a report by Time last month suggesting that a modular handset from Google could reach the market as early as 2015 and start at $50. The company even plans to have a working prototype to show off in the coming weeks. It appears that the mobile modularity push is increasing in intensity. And it's about time for all of us to keep a close eye on its progress.

  • Google's Project Ara: 10 Ways It Could Change Smartphone Design

    by Don Reisinger
    1 - Google's Project Ara: 10 Ways It Could Change Smartphone Design
  • Customizability Is Lacking Across the Industry

    The cornerstone of mobile product design today is control. Companies don't like the idea of giving their customers the choice to decide what components should find their way to devices. In a self-contained mobile device, all of the components live in harmony, delivering a uniform experience for all users. Google is trying to change that.
    2 - Customizability Is Lacking Across the Industry
  • The Open Initiative

    There was a time, not long ago, when the open-source movement was little more than a niche area of the industry that focused mainly on Linux. With Google's help, however, the open-source movement has taken on the mainstream and become a household term across developed countries. That the average consumer is now being eyed for an open device that lets them choose what they want is a monumental shift in product design and philosophy.
    3 - The Open Initiative
  • It Could Change How Apple Designs New Devices

    Apple might be loath to give up some of its control over the design of its mobile devices to its customers. But if Project Ara takes off, Apple might not have a choice. As recent history has shown, with Apple offering bigger displays, updates to software and enhanced features in devices, Android vendors are taking the first step toward advancement in many cases. And Apple has been forced to play catch-up. Could Project Ara be the next device to force Apple to change its ways?
    4 - It Could Change How Apple Designs New Devices
  • It Could Help Samsung

    Samsung could benefit greatly from Project Ara. Granted, the company has so far built its mobile empire by delivering closed-off devices, but it's also flush with cash and has the research and development team to develop something truly special in the modular department. Samsung is also unafraid of trying new things that might make sense to its business. Look for Samsung to be a major player in the modular space.
    5 - It Could Help Samsung
  • It Could Alter the Course of Android Development

    Android could arguably be the technology most at risk of changing with Project Ara. One of the nice things about closed devices is that the software bundled with them is designed to work efficiently with the specs of the respective product. Project Ara assumes that everyone has their own set of components based on their needs, which means vendors can't predict what the operating system needs might be. That could force Google to take a more restrictive stance with software development or force those tinkering with its software to support anything and everything to accommodate all customer needs. The question, then, becomes, will that create a bloated Android? Many questions surround Android's integration with Project Ara.
    6 - It Could Alter the Course of Android Development
  • It Could Even Change Software Development

    If Project Ara is going to change the face of Android, mobile developers and even component vendors will also have some issues. On the software side, developers will need to build apps that can take advantage of a wide array of component combinations. On the hardware side, companies will need to be sure that when certain components are added to others, overheating, battery problems or any other number of issues don't pop up. Project Ara is a real game-changer.
    7 - It Could Even Change Software Development
  • Can Aesthetic Catch Up to Customizability?

    As of this writing, it appears Google's focus with Project Ara is customizability. But as recent mock-ups have shown, the devices are boxy, look like poorly put together puzzles and aren't nearly as attractive as today's closed-down handsets. Google will need to find a way to make Project Ara handsets more attractive or face the possibility of losing out on customers.
    8 - Can Aesthetic Catch Up to Customizability?
  • Size Will Matter

    Although the concept of Project Ara means customers will be able to choose screen size, Google will need to work hard to ensure the add-ons don't cause devices to become overly thick. Google says that it's working on designs that will limit thickness and reflect today's ultra-thin handsets, but as customers add more components, who knows how that will affect overall mobility?
    9 - Size Will Matter
  • Is It Only for Gadget Gurus?

    The technology industry is abuzz with the possibilities surrounding Project Ara, but it's unclear whether the average consumer will want to get in on the device. After all, the typical person has no time to waste finding different components for a device and hot-swapping them on the way to work; they just want a smartphone that looks nice and works. The hardest sell for Google will be making consumers think they really need something only the geeks are drooling over.
    10 - Is It Only for Gadget Gurus?
  • Price Will Be a Major Concern

    Although Time is reporting that Google can get the price of a Project Ara device down to $50, let's be clear: That's a starting price. As customers buy more add-ons, that price will ostensibly go up considerably. Price, therefore, will be a big concern for customers, and something that Google will need to work on before the project launches.
    11 - Price Will Be a Major Concern

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