Google Shows Off Its Modular Phone

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Google's Project Ara is an attempt to create a build-it-yourself, highly customizable handset.

The idea is ingenious. Why constantly upgrade a whole smartphone simply because one element of it -- the camera, the processor, amount of RAM or display size or resolution -- is out of date? If its owner could piece the phone together brick-by-brick like a Lego model, then not only would it be the perfect handset in terms of looks and features, when one of those features needed upgrading, it could be swapped out for another brick or block.

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That’s the motivation behind Project Ara and the video (below) about its progression shows that going from ingenious idea to consumer reality is not going to be a straightforward process, especially if, as Google hopes, handsets are going to be available before the end of 2015.

And although there’s a long road ahead, the video shows that the team really is making tracks too. Frames or chasses have already been built that will act as the foundation for attaching blocks and some of the blocks that will house components have been created. Rather than clicking into place like Lego, Google is using electromagnetism to keep everything attached.

This means, according to the project’s head of design, Daniel Makoski, the finished phones won’t require covers to hold all of the blocks in place. “We ended up deciding that embracing this block and modular aesthetic — it was part of the phone. Let’s not hide it, let’s not put it behind a cover,” he says in the video. “Perhaps the best design statement we could make was that this phone can flow and adapt just as much as our lives flow and adapt, and that in itself is an aesthetic.”

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In terms of personalization, the video also shows that the individual blocks can be 3-D printed with patterns and images and that a configurator app will help consumers find what components are available and in which designs.

However, what the project is not attempting to do is challenge the premium end of the smartphone market; the team envisages that many of the initial owners will have never used a smartphone before.

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