The frenetic pace at which companies like Apple and Samsung are releasing new phone models has begun to put consumers in an awkward position. New versions of the iPhone or Samsung’s line of phones are usually just incremental improvements over their predecessors. Consumers don’t want to buy a whole new phone just because their current phone’s processor has become slow, or its camera is now outdated. Last month, a concept called Phonebloks went viral. It was a simple idea—phones would feature a skeleton body with each component like RAM, processor, screen, battery, etc, being individually replaceable. But an initiative like that need a company willing to invest in not only the hardware but also the community of developers who would provide the replaceable components. That’s where Google’s Motorola enters the picture with its Project Ara. According to Motorola, the company will provide an endoskeleton of a phone and consumers will be able to swap modules as and when they want—a touch screen for a smaller screen and a keyboard, an old processor for a snappy one, an old camera for the latest in mobile imaging, etc. Just like it did with Android in software, Google plans to create a thriving third-party ecosystem of hardware developers who will contribute to the project.
Apart from convenience to the customers, another important reason why such a project is so welcome is its environmental impact. The United Nations Environmental Programme says that India alone produces 1,700 tonnes of e-waste from mobiles, and this is set to grow 18 times by 2020. China’s mobile e-waste is set to grow by 7 times in that period. Being able to replace specific components will not only save consumers a lot of money, but will also ensure that they don’t have to discard their phones quite so often.