A lifetime ago (in technology advancement time units) I reported on a crowdfunded project to develop a modular smartphone called Phonebloks. The idea was to sell a plug-and-play building block platform where the user decides exactly what functionality he/she needs and what level of functionality, and then simply plugs the modules into a motherboard type base. It would also permit owners to upgrade and/or swap out only functions deemed necessary. So, if you believe that a 12 Mpixel camera sensor chip being used with a cheap plastic lens is an unwarranted expense, then buy the 5 Mpixel camera module with the same lens and same picture quality for half the price (yes, I guessed at that fraction), and at the same time get by with a smaller flash memory card.
Phonebloks has completed its initial development phase, but does not reveal a lot about what is happening now. Their list of corporate sponsors includes Sennheiser (headphones), ChipDesign (antennas), triggar (camera-based-recognition), AT&S (circuit boards), and Google (everything, so it seems).
Google's Android-based Spiral modular phone... looks an awful lot like a Windows 8 desktop. Egad!
In the mean time, Google has been pushing forward with its Project Ara (see video below) which is "Designed exclusively for 6 billion people." According to the U.S. Census, there are currently 7.2 billion people on Earth, so I'm not sure which billion people Google's not targeting for the Spiral phones, maybe die-hard iPhone faithful. Spiral 2 is slated to go on sale in Puerto Rico sometime in 2015. Unlike Spiral 1, which had WiFi but no cell tower connectivity, Spiral 2 is much closer to a commercial product with a more stylish, finished appearance. Oh, and unlike Spiral 1's reported inability to even power up properly during its public debut, Spiral 2 did in fact actually turn on.
Google is currently in a collaborative mood with Project Ara and is even offering a Module Developers Kit (MDK) for companies desiring to be a team player. From their "Get Involved" page: "We've created Spiral 2 developer hardware based on MDK v0.2 to enable prototyping and development of modules for the Ara platform. Spiral 2 developer hardware consists of: 1) a board that incorporates the UniPro Switch in the Ara endoskeleton and multiple modules interfaces with UniPro Bridge ASICs supporting multiple bridged and tunneled protocols; 2) an Application Processor (AP) board with a modified version of Linaro Android; 3) connectors and cables. We're also in the process of developing APIs that will let developers and artists (and developer-artists) create novel ways for users to customize their devices. The Phone Maker API will allow digital artists to create aesthetic customization experiences for shells, and the Phone Maker API will allow developers to help users create functionally customized devices with just a few clicks."
Google plans to have at least 20 modules available for the launch, and the base configuration, whatever that might be, is targeted at around $50. Time will tell whether Project Ara will 'Spiral' out of control.
Google's Project Ara: The 'Spiral' Modular Smartphone
Posted on January 7, 2015