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Google Cellphones Handhelds Hardware

Project Ara: Inside Google's Modular Smartphones 70

Posted by samzenpus
from the one-piece-at-a-time dept.
harrymcc writes "Google is releasing more details on Project Ara, its effort — originally spearheaded by Motorola — to reinvent the smartphone in a form made up of hot-swappable modules that consumers can configure as they choose, then upgrade later as new technologies emerge. Google is aiming to release about a year from now."
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Project Ara: Inside Google's Modular Smartphones

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  • Hot-swappable? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by 14erCleaner (745600) <FourteenerCleaner@yahoo.com> on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @08:46PM (#46353009) Homepage Journal
    Because you could upgrade your phone without interrupting the current call?
    • by mjwx (966435)

      Because you could upgrade your phone without interrupting the current call?

      But I still wouldn't bet that the carrier doesn't drop the call before you finish swapping the components.

  • A bit ugly, (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mjwx (966435) on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @09:11PM (#46353227)
    From the pics in the article, it's pretty fugly... However I'd still buy one but it would be the first phone I've owned that I'd buy a case for.
    • by dave420 (699308)
      That's a pre-pre-pre-production prototype. The final product is at least a year off.
    • I'm confused as to why aesthetics are such a big deal about phones. You look at the screen, not the back of the phone, right?
  • I think this type of technology can be used to curtail government spying and also it can be a fun way to build your own phone to your own specifications the way people build their computers from parts.

    If the phone building blocks only have to implement specified interfaces and do not have to be provided by any specific vendor, it could become possible finally to have actually secure phones, where a building block could be inserted to pre-process and encrypt the signal in a 'sandbox' in a way that would make

    • Yes, nothing like owning a device where any of several modules can be easily swapped out for a visually identical one with additional monitoring built in, to make spying on you harder...

  • by msobkow (48369) on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @09:20PM (#46353291) Homepage Journal

    How much do you want to bet they end up like most "upgradeable" PCs -- never touched from day of purchase until they hit the landfill or the recycling company.

    • I think this is a good point - it seems that much of the technology industry is heading away from modularity, for example, Apple laptops, because it permits a smaller and more efficient product. I don't doubt that Google will create a useful and successful ecosystem here, but it's hard to see it completely dominating the smartphone industry in the short term.

    • by Baloroth (2370816) on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @10:53PM (#46353863)

      How much do you want to bet they end up like most "upgradeable" PCs -- never touched from day of purchase until they hit the landfill or the recycling company.

      Most of them will. However, my current desktop has gone through a motherboard swap, CPU upgrade, 2 graphics cards swaps, several HDD upgrades, added RAM, PSU swap, and a new case (technically, the only original component is 2 of the current 4 sticks of RAM, the Wifi card, and one of the HDDs).

      Most people probably won't use the modularity much, if at all. But some people will, and those people who do can benefit from it tremendously.

      • That reminds me of the old saying...

        "They just don't make things as well as they did in the old days. I still have my grandfather's hammer/axe. I've changed the head three times and the handle four times, but it's still fine."

    • by FatLittleMonkey (1341387) on Thursday February 27, 2014 @06:01AM (#46355479)

      However, the industry itself only really exists because of that modularity. Small vendors being able to assemble niche systems from modular components, without having to do high-end electrical engineering and manufacturing.

      Modular "phones" won't be modified by more than a fraction of the most nerdish end-users, but they will be a boon to other device makers. Companies are already using cellphone and tablet parts as cheap, standardised, easy-to-design-for control systems and/or displays for their products. Likewise, companies are making niche products that plug into a standard cellphone, rather than require their own computer/display/battery/etc.

      With modularity, that ability increases exponentially.

      • Good point, but aren't phones already useful in that regard? I can connect my phone via bluetooth, tethering, or USB to anything I could think of needing cell phone capabilities temporarily.
    • by ifiwereasculptor (1870574) on Thursday February 27, 2014 @08:51AM (#46356011)

      To be fair, a PC from 2009, like an Athlon II, can be indistinguishable from a 2014 Core i3 when you're running, say, Windows, Office and Firefox. By comparison, an ARM processor from 2009, like the one in an iPhone 3GS or Motorola Milestone, is frustratingly slow even to browse simple websites. Pit against a Nexus 5 to have an idea of how much faster the pace of phone processing power is happening at than tradicional x86 right now.

      Also, I'm pretty satisfied with my Nexus 4, except for heat and battery life. If I could exchange its processor for a quad-core cortex A7 like the one inside a Moto G (the damn thing lasts over 5 days with light use), I'd be happy to do so.

    • by bammmmm (3498549)
      It's not just upgradeable, it's a custom build, even if it never changes after the initial choices.
  • by HockeyPuck (141947) on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @09:26PM (#46353333)

    I do remember upgrading CPUs from 486sx to dx to adding in a 66mhz overclocking chip etc...

    However, it wasn't very long before upgrading a cpu meant buying a new motherboard.

    A phone on the other hand... if you want it to be small and lightweight with no bulky connectors... it won't be field upgradable. Look at ultrabooks with their soldered on ram and SSD modules vs a W series Lenovo with dual expansion bays...

    I also seem to recall at the S5 launch that the audience applauded the phone being dust and waterproof. Not sure how you can do this with all sorts of connectors.

    Though I do applaud them for trying and maybe something good will come out of it.

    • by rolfwind (528248) on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @09:41PM (#46353481)

      For this to take off, it has to offer more than just upgradable specs... because people generally buy what they can at purchase and phones are at a place now where computers were at around 2003-4, speed gains still to be had but the majorly common tasks no longer benefitted from upgrading the bleeding edge hardware as much because the old stuff didn't feel quite so anemic anymore.

      That means modules with hardware that adds capabilities and not just speed. Problem is that, as seen in the console market, most apps don't cater to what can be connect but what is connected by default.

      Google could carve out a definite niche with this, but I'm not really seeing it as a marketshare dominator.

      • by HockeyPuck (141947) on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @09:43PM (#46353497)

        you could get companies to build peripherals for them... Google doesn't make the addons, someone else does...

        A set of Carl Zeiss lenses for your smart phone?

      • by The Rizz (1319)

        That means modules with hardware that adds capabilities and not just speed. Problem is that, as seen in the console market, most apps don't cater to what can be connect but what is connected by default.

        The difference is that you've started buying into the "phone = console" mentality, when it should really be "phone = PC". Yes, on consoles it's typically programmed for the base hardware because the console is hard to add any hardware to, and current phones are quite similar. These new modular types of phones would be much closer to PCs - hardware is easy to add and doesn't require the manufacturer's OK to do so.

        • Consoles used to have expansion slots and the cartridge slot could be used as one too.
          The expansions, if any, sucked for market reasons mainly : if only a small subset of your users have one, few developers will make games for them, leading to low consumer adoption in a nice vicious circle. The most successful expansion was probably the Sega-CD, which is quite telling. Some like Nintendo 64 memory upgrade only had a handful of games, or were hilarious failures (Jaguar CD, DD64). The Saturn had a small niche

    • I do remember upgrading CPUs from 486sx to dx to adding in a 66mhz overclocking chip etc... However, it wasn't very long before upgrading a cpu meant buying a new motherboard.

      It did back then too, if you wanted a Pentium.

      • by The Rizz (1319)

        I do remember upgrading CPUs from 486sx to dx to adding in a 66mhz overclocking chip etc...

        However, it wasn't very long before upgrading a cpu meant buying a new motherboard.

        It did back then too, if you wanted a Pentium.

        Actually, they made Pentium chips that would fit onto 486 motherboards [wikipedia.org].

        • Yeah, I remembered that after I posted. However, they had poor performance and were really expensive, so I'm going to pretend they didn't count.

          • I remember wanting one badly for an outdated old PC I was given, but it's really like they don't exist anyway. It's only recently that I learnt about the actual performance, they really sucked. Afterall when run on a 32bit 25MHz or 33MHz FSB, these CPUs get only one fourth of the external bandwith to L2 cache and memory they expect. It was an abject rip off! Worse than a DX4. Similar to Pentium 4 + sdram or Pentium 133, 150 etc. sold without L2, but priced like high end stuff.

  • There will be at a minimum a niche market for this build to your own specs customized phone/computer/music player/camera.

    Nerds, criminals, and the ultra rich perhaps....but mainstream acceptance and profitability are question marks.

    R & D costs on a mass market phone are relatively easy to recapture with millions of identical units sold, and as fascinating as these are, I suspect their dissimilarity will lead to higher consumer cost.

    • by The Rizz (1319) on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @09:53PM (#46353569)

      R & D costs on a mass market phone are relatively easy to recapture with millions of identical units sold, and as fascinating as these are, I suspect their dissimilarity will lead to higher consumer cost.

      You're missing the point; the idea here is to make the components mass marketed, rather than have it be the entire phone. Right now if you buy a phone from Apple, you get an Apple camera built into the Apple circuit board. The idea here is that Nikon mass-markets the cameras, and you plug it into your Motorola processor with a Lenovo battery and a Linksys broadband module. Don't like those brands? Pick whoever you want, in what combination you want. There will be pre-configured package deals, yes. But the fact that you can swap them out afterwards is the idea.

      The point is that while the base phone may cost more, the modules will be cheaper (due to competition), and you can choose what quality level you want on each. And, instead if having to throw away your whole phone to replace/upgrade the camera/processor/antenna/whatever, you just buy the new module and the rest of your phone stays the same. So, more up-front cost, but less long-term cost.

      • by SpzToid (869795)

        Jolla announced something similar quite awhile back called 'the other half', but haven't delivered anything substantial yet. Still, I'd argue they are a player in this space too, have been doing it for awhile also, and most of those folks are former Nokians, so they know hardware and also how to integrate it at the OS level.

        http://www.jollatides.com/2014... [jollatides.com]

        While I said Jolla hasn't delivered anything substantial yet, that is actually a very arguable judgement call I'd rather not get into. Still, I would lik

      • The idea here is that Nikon mass-markets the cameras, and you plug it into your Motorola processor with a Lenovo battery and a Linksys broadband module.

        And you have a Total Mess. Because most of it kind of works, but the drivers for the cameras are a bit out of date or not compatible with the system version you need for the battery....

        What you outlined is a dream - but not a dream for consumers. Yes in the abstract it sounds great but the reality as I and everyone else bore witness too in the PC era, is t

        • Thanks for telling me what I don't want.

          I look forward to many more years of manufacturers giving me what I actually "want", rather than what I think I want, even though for some reason I still think I want what I originally said I wanted. But I'm probably dippy like that! I could swear what I want is a decent battery life, largish screen, fast CPU and memory, removable storage, and a keyboard, and I'm not sure why I wouldn't want that, but as I understand it I'm wrong, and what I actually "want" is a ph

          • I'm just telling you what you will GET, not what you WANT.

            In reality we WANT many things we cannot GET. That is life.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        No, you're missing the point - that's not the same economy of scale as an entire phone is, so they will be much more expensive to build and buy. Each component will have a markup on top, and an additional distribution cost. It's a fundamentally stupid idea, sorry. And the dream relies on a universal bus interconnect which is going to be out of date before your contract runs out.

  • by swb (14022) on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @11:45PM (#46354145)

    ...or a tablet or a desktop or a smartphone and the use of its peripherals, depending on what I plug it into?

    Or does this just get me the a smartphone that sends me in a constant search for drivers and debugging why my Nikon camera module causes my Linksys RF module to crap out?

    I'm interested in the former but not the latter.

  • Drop-sensitivity (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Jmstuckman (561420) on Thursday February 27, 2014 @01:16AM (#46354517) Journal

    My Blackberry Q10 has a removable battery, and it reboots itself whenever I set it down on a desk too hard. Most or all smartphones with removable batteries that I've used in the past did the same thing.

    If we can't even engineer a phone so a non-soldered battery stays connected on a mild shock, how are we going to allow for users to replace every component of their phones?

    • There already exist 'stay put' batteries [wikimedia.org], so it's not an engineering problem, but rather one of design.

    • Weird. Every phone I've ever owned has a removable battery. Not one has ever done this, even when accidentally I drop them on the floor. How hard are you slamming them down?

      • by Triv (181010)

        "My Blackberry Q10 has a removable battery, and it reboots itself whenever I set it down on a desk too hard. Most or all smartphones with removable batteries that I've used in the past did the same thing."

        "Weird. Every phone I've ever owned has a removable battery. Not one has ever done this, even when accidentally I drop them on the floor. How hard are you slamming them down?"

        ANECDOTE FIGHT!

    • by knarf (34928)

      Hmmmm.... I wonder what you do to your phones which makes them do that. I have only ever had phones with removable batteries without these problems. Either you always buy lemons, you exaggerate the problem or you slam them down on the desk in a futile attempt to form a phone-shaped crater in the surface.

      While the concept of a lego phone might not appeal to everyone, there certainly is some merit in being able to swap more than just the battery.

      Also remember that GSM phones already contain user-swappable dev

  • Uh huh. (Score:4, Informative)

    by DirePickle (796986) on Thursday February 27, 2014 @02:04AM (#46354729)
    Yes, Google, that has done everything it can to kill the microSD slot, physical keyboard, and removable battery now wants to swing back towards upgradable phones. Whatever.
  • Does anyone remember when 486SX computers came and it was a big deal that you could later upgrade the processor to a 486DX computer, making them totally modular and cool, and then like ten seconds later, Intel came out with the Pentium with a completely different bus and the entire system was obsolete? That's about what this sounds like. The second you get in your hands the all-updatable 64-bit system, every phone moves to 128-bit chips and you're stuck with half as many pins on your plugs just to get you

  • Being able to swap radio modules could be fantastic if it reduces the friction involved in switching carriers.

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