Motorola aims for do-it-yourself smartphones

Published October 30, 2013
A man and woman laugh in front of a Motorola logo at a launch event for Motorola's new Moto X phone in New York, August 1, 2013.— Reuters Photo
A man and woman laugh in front of a Motorola logo at a launch event for Motorola's new Moto X phone in New York, August 1, 2013.— Reuters Photo

San Francisco - Motorola wants to let consumers design their own smartphones.

The Google-owned manufacturer has launched Project Ara to create a free, open and standardized platform to let people pick and choose the components they want in their phones, Motorola said in a blogpost this week.

The goal is to create a standard endoskeleton, or frame, that can hold different modules, like extra-powerful processors, additional batteries or memory chips for storing more music, all based on the customer's preferences.

"Our goal is to drive a more thoughtful, expressive, and open relationship between users, developers, and their phones. To give you the power to decide what your phone does, how it looks, where and what it's made of, how much it costs, and how long you'll keep it," Motorola said.

Motorola's vision of do-it-yourself smartphones builds on parent company Google's success with its widely used Android smartphone platform, which it offers for free and allows manufacturers to customize. Android also gives people more leeway to tweak the features on their smartphones than Apple's iOS platform offers to iPhone users.

Motorola said it has been working on Project Ara for over a year and that it recently teamed up with Phonebloks, an open source project that has also been working on creating modular smartphone components that can be easily replaced.

The announcement of Ara follows Motorola's launch earlier this year of the Moto X smartphone, which lets customers choose the colors of the front and back panels and buttons.

On its website, Phonebloks envisions an online store letting consumers read reviews of smartphone components, shop for new and used parts, and order custom-designed handsets.

Project Ara is also a bit of a throwback to the 1980s and 1990s, when many technology-handy consumers assembled their own desktop PCs using hard drives, power supplies, CPUs and other custom-picked components.

That became less common when laptops, which are more difficult to customize, became widely used, but computer components are still made at standard sizes that can be slotted into most PCs.

Motorola said it will work on the project openly and create experimental modules. It plans to invite developers and recruit "Ara scouts" to help research and shape the project.

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