Smartphones. We almost all have them, and they play a large part in most of our lives. In fact, the smartphone industry has become one of the largest growing industries in the last decade, and there appears to be no signs of stopping anytime soon. I recently jumped into the smartphone world this past summer when I got my first one, the Galaxy S3. It isn’t the newest of models, but I instantly noticed the huge difference between it and my previous phone that could basically text, talk, and take pictures and not much else. I was now able to surf the internet and play games and keep a schedule and use social media and do what seemed to me to be about a billion other things as well. There was no doubt that this new device would become much more to me than just something to use for basic communication with people, and it has definitely proven to be so.
Which is why the Google has decided to work on a phone that could be fit to its users. Like me, the world has experienced this smartphone phenomenon, where just about everybody that has made the switch to smartphones has seen a great increase in how their phones affect their lives. From mothers frantically trying to keep track of children’s’ schedules, to coaches using these new tools to develop unbeatable gameplans, to freeloaders just hanging in their basements, playing games and facebooking the days away, smartphones are used by all kinds of different people with different agendas. Google has seen this and decided, why make people fit to the phones? Why not make phones that fit the people who are using them?
Project Ara is an initiative under development by Google to create a fully customizable smartphone. They wish to create a phone that will basically take in different modules and run them in whatever way each module was designed. These modules can range between anything from a battery to a CPU to a camera to heartbeat sensors to pretty much anything that developers can think of. It is basically a “use your imagination” type design that will allow developers to freely create whatever they want, which is similar in fashion to the existing app stores where developers can write whatever apps they want provided they follow the specifications of the OS so that they actually run on the phones. What’s cool about this is that it will allow developer to explore hardware that had been previously unexplored in the phone market.
The phone that Project Ara is creating is something built for all types of people. It will allow consumers to customize their phones to fit their own desires, whether they want great cameras or great battery life or heart rate monitors and other health driven devices. What the consumer gets out of these phones will be what they put in and what they’re willing to invest in. I have seen so many recent commercials about how certain phones have great cameras and walking trackers and all sorts of different things and I always wonder, what about the people that don’t care about those hardware features? I mean, they are nice to have, but if someone doesn’t really care or use them, then they are basically paying for extra trinkets in their phones that will do nothing but take up space. Imagine instead, watching a commercial for a module that you really like and then going out and getting just that and nothing more. You will then have a phone that does the things that only you really care about and not have things that waste space. This is the key element that Project Ara is trying to embody: phones tailored specifically for each individual. With how much a person’s phone now affects their lives, they deserve to have some say in shaping a tool so important to them.
Which brings me to the real potential of this idea. The phone that they put out can be a worldly phone, reaching markets that have not seen widespread smartphone use, and changing markets that have. Phones will now have the ability to be tailored to fit the needs of areas all over the globe, with medical modules or wifi modules or exploration modules or whatever else comes out of the developers’ minds. The phones are supposedly going to be fairly reasonably priced (possibly starting in the $50-$100 range) and from there people will be able to spend whatever they want to upgrade or downgrade or switch out modules as they please. With pricing being largely based on what each person is willing to pay for, this phone could see a huge amount of use all over the world, where areas both rich and poor can find suitable uses for the phone.
The interesting takeaway from this project for me is that it really puts the consumers in the driver’s seat for what direction they will take this phone. Not only will they be able to design their own individual phones to fit their needs, but they will basically set the tone for the market. People will buy what they want to buy and I can see a market where people are wanting something to be added to their phones, so developers will go out and make that happen. It has the possibility to be a “people’s phone” in the sense that high quality and useful modules will soar just like popular apps in an app store. Modules could become passing fads in different areas of countries where it might be “hip” to have certain modules at certain times and then that will just be a phase before people move onto new and different modules. It’s almost a social experiment as much as it is a technological experiment to see things rise and fall in popularity and what sorts of modules will survive in what sorts of environments.
To say the least, I am very interested in Project Ara and I definitely plan on following up as they begin to close in on a release date. It will be very cool to see how this kind of phone will affect the world and how the world will affect the phone as well. I hope the idea catches on, as it will definitely at the very least create new and exciting ripples in the phone market and the tech world. It is certainly a phone worth looking for.