Motorola wants you to build your own smartphone with Project Ara

Is the age of the modular smartphone here already?

Smartphones officially got a little bit more like regular PCs today with Morotola's announcement of Project Ara, a modularized smartphone design that will let users pick their own components.

The concept appears to work in the same way as a barebones laptop chassis, which can be outfitted with whichever parts a hobbyist chooses to install. Motorola says that the idea is to bring an open aesthetic to mobile hardware.

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“We want to do for hardware what the Android platform has done for software: create a vibrant third-party developer ecosystem, lower the barriers to entry, increase the pace of innovation, and substantially compress development timelines,” wrote Paul Eremenko, of the company’s advanced technology and projects group.

Motorola smartphone

Ara will center on the endo, or endoskeleton – the framework that will connect the various modules, which Motorola says could include everything from the battery and screen to exotic items like medical sensors.

The announcement makes it sound as though Ara-based phones won’t be hitting the market for some time, however. Motorola says that it’s done preliminary technical work – including extensive consultation with the community behind Phonebloks, a similar project – but noted that even an alpha version of the module developer’s kit won’t be available until later this winter. A design contest for module developers was also teased.

Ara builds on the aforementioned Phonebloks project, as well as Motorola’s own Project Sticky, which saw a team tour the country with a truck full of 3D printers and high-end mobile hardware this summer for a series of “hack-a-thons.” Phonebloks, coincidentally or not, had been focused on today as the culmination of a coordinated social media campaign.

Email Jon Gold at jgold@nww.com and follow him on Twitter at @NWWJonGold.

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