Motorola's Project Ara Lets You Keep Your Phone, Upgrade Hardware

PHOTO: Project Ara, a new Motorola initiative, lets customers mix and match the individual parts
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Back in June, Samsung announced it was releasing three new models of their Galaxy S4 phone. But those that already bought a Galaxy S4 when it came out two months earlier couldn't just swap out their old hardware for a sturdier chassis or improved camera. Now, Motorola announced a new project that could result in people buying individual upgrades as opposed to completely new phones.

Led by Motorola's Advanced Technology and Projects group, Project Ara is the company's recent effort to create modular and customizable smartphones. "We want to do for hardware what the Android platform has done for software," said Motorola. In short, they want customers to tweak their phones, just as Android users can tweak their operating system to suit their needs.

The first pictures of Project Ara prototypes show a smartphone that looks completely different from any other smartphone on the market. Unlike the smooth finishes of a new iPhone or Samsung Galaxy, Motorola's phones look something like a game of Tetris. Small blocks containing different bits of hardware, like the battery or the processor, snap into place on a rectangular base.

Not everyone uses their phone for the same purposes. People that like to snap photos everywhere may want a better camera. Those that want their phones to last through the entire weekend on a single charge may want another battery. Through Project Ara, each customer's phone will be tailored to what he or she wants in a phone. The company expects to have a prototype kit available to developers by this winter.

In addition, Motorola isn't keeping Project Ara to itself. It's opened up to the public by partnering with Phonebloks, an online community of people interested in modular phones. By engaging with the Phonebloks community, Motorola is inviting people to contribute ideas for new types of hardware that Project Ara could manufacture and make available to customers.

Motorola's last smartphone, the Moto X, may have let its customers pick out how the phone looks, but Project Ara is aiming to let customers pick out how their phone works. "Our goal is to drive a more thoughtful, expressive, and open relationship between users, developers, and their phones," said Motorola, which is owned by Google, in a statement. "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."

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