Editorial: The building-block phone

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November 01, 2014 1:45 PM

With Ara, Google set to rule smartphone market

If Google has its way, the world would in a few years be buying parts of their smartphone as they do with apps at the moment. No wonder the search and advertising giant, which seems to be nurturing device ambitions of late calls its Project Ara “the hardware version of Android”. Like with Android, Mountain View wants to keep a grip on this open-source project and will itself build and sell the frame which forms the base of the new modular phone. It wants developers to create the modules that will go with it. This could be a keyboard module, a long-life battery or a zoom lens. The possibilities are so mind-boggling that it could change the way we use smartphones. In the ideal Ara scenario, the smartphone will be able to adapt to very specific requirements of the user like adding multiple battery modules for a camping trip with multiple lens options.

While it is a win-win for consumers, it could sound the death knell for a lot of Google’s present day device partners. Who would want to buy a hard-framed phone when they could pick and choose what they want, at affordable prices. Google’s challenge, on the other hand, would be to keep the prices under control. The developers won’t have scale and the economies that come with it. At least not initially. There wouldn’t be any taker for the ambitious project if the modules end up more expensive than a regular smartphone. To start with, project head Paul Eremenko says he wants to keep the cost of the frame under $50. But he accepts that putting a price on one of these phones is still a long way off. If the concept catches the world’s fancy, you might see some large smartphone manufacturers of today being relegated to becoming module makers. By the way, selling BlackBerry keyboards or Nokia cameras for an Android phone might be a business idea whose time has come.

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