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'Project Ara' moves forward
Feb. 23, 2015
by Mark Ollig

It could reshape the mobile phone landscape.
In 2013, yours truly wrote a column about a company in the Netherlands called Phonebloks, who came up with the catchy phrase “a phone worth keeping.”
Phonebloks’ Dave Hakkens, said he was trying to come up with a way to reduce e-waste, which is the waste accumulated due to discarded electronic parts.
As we all know, every year the latest and greatest “must have” new smartphone appears, and tech-savvy folks rush out to purchase it.
Instead of having their old phone recycled, many times its electronic parts end up in the trash.
Hakkens considered this, and thought of a new idea for building an easily upgradable smartphone using module blocks.
These domino-shaped module blocks, are self-contained electronic components, comprised of various features a user can add onto their smartphone.
His company’s vision was to provide the public with a customizable mobile device, whereby the user could simply change out modularized, plug-in parts called “bloks” when updating or adding new smartphone functionality.
This would reduce e-waste, because instead of buying a new smartphone and throwing out the old one, a person could simply upgrade their existing phone.
Phonebloks’ social media sites promoted how a new type of smartphone “would consist of a main [circuit] board onto which bloks could be snapped on by the user, like Legos. Each blok is responsible for a unique function of the phone.”
Motorola, which created the first mobile cellphone, became seriously interested in this concept, and began development of Phonebloks’ idea.
The development design uses what Motorola calls an “endoskeleton and modules.”
The endoskeleton, or “endo,” contains the structural frame, and is the physical core of this new smartdevice holding all the module blocks in place.
An individual module could be designed for use as a camera, display screen, medical application, additional storage, gyroscope, extra battery, or any other application.
Third-party developers would provide the customized module feature blocks.
This idea grew wings, and has now taken flight.
So, exactly how does Project Ara fit into all of this?
Well, for one thing, Motorola, which initially began working with Project Ara; and Phonebloks’ smartphone’s Android OS (Operating System), are both owned by Google Inc.
And to top it all off, Phonebloks has now partnered with Google.
Google said since Hakkens’ idea was similar in concept to what they were working on in Project Ara, the company decided to officially associate themselves with Phonebloks.
Why is it called Project Ara?
Google’s lead mechanical designer is named Ara, and Google chose Ara to be the name of their new smartphone.
I would have preferred them calling it the “Markphone,” but that’s just my personal opinion.
“Project Ara aims to enable users to create a modular smartphone that is precisely tailored to their functional and aesthetic preferences,” according to Google’s Project Ara website.
Google developed Spiral 2, a prototype Ara smartphone.
Spiral 2 was presented during this month’s Project Ara Developer’s Conference at the Googleplex, in Mountain View, CA.
The software and hardware developers attending this conference received the latest news and information about Project Ara.
These developers also presented their own ideas and modeling concepts for new feature modules to be used with Ara.
The Spiral 2 is 3G capable, includes custom integrated circuits, application processor board, and a Linaro Android modified OS platform.
The Ara Spiral 2 uses an endoskeleton structural frame for holding the module blocks.
Spiral 2 appeared to be using a 4.5-inch display screen module.
Google will be test marketing the Ara modular smartphone in an actual retail environment later this year.
The location chosen for this test is Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico has a diverse mobile user base of approximately 3 million.
These mobile users range from those using entry-level featured phones, to those using premium smartphones.
At least 90 percent of Puerto Rico households have one mobile phone.
Smartphones are used by 77 percent of Puerto Ricans for accessing the Internet.
Puerto Rico’s cell phone providers and carriers are regulated under the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
Release of an Ara module smartphone on a regional or global level will be determined after the Puerto Rico test marketing results are in.
How would you feel about being able to simply snap in a modular component onto your smartphone in order to add or upgrade a feature on it, instead of purchasing a whole-new phone?
You can follow Project Ara on Twitter using @ProjectAra.
Google’s Project Ara website is: http://www.projectara.com.
Videos from Project Ara Developers Conference 2015 are at: http://www.projectara.com/ara-developers-conference.
Phonebloks’ website is: https://phonebloks.com/en.
Follow my ramblings on Twitter via @bitsandbytes.


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