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Google's Project Ara Could Bring PC-Like Hardware Ecosystem To Phones

Soulskill posted about 8 months ago | from the without-the-liquid-cooling-i-hope dept.

Cellphones 139

An anonymous reader writes "Now that Google's modular phone effort, Project Ara, looks a bit less like vaporware, people are starting to figure out its implications for the future of cellphones. One fascinating possibility is that it could transform the cellphone purchasing process into something resembling desktop computer purchasing. Enthusiasts could search out the individual parts they like the best and assemble them into cellphone Voltron. People who just want a decent phone with no hassle could look at pre-built offerings — and not just from Apple, Samsung, and the like. It could open up a whole new group of phone 'manufacturers.' Of course, this comes with drawbacks, too — if you think fragmentation is bad now, imagine trying to support thousands of different hardware combinations."

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tech tricks and tips (-1)

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Re:tech tricks and tips (-1)

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Not what the masses want. (2, Insightful)

retech (1228598) | about 8 months ago | (#46820373)

It'll be way too expensive to have a build your own phone. And it's not what the majority of consumers want. Apple has proven this time and time again. An unserviceable phone, an unserviceable tablet, and now unserviceable laptops. None of which have the simplest of battery swaps available (hell even the ram is soldered on board now in the MBPs). They've built the largest computer (mostly mobile) empire on hardware that is idiot proof and has no options. This is what consumers want. A build your own phone would be fun, but just not practical and way too expensive.

I'll get slammed, I know. Fanbois unite and all that. Oddly enough I'm typing this on a 5yr old MBP that I will lament when it finally goes. I don't like ios and most likely will never upgrade since I do not like their new models. I know this one has been through a lot with me and performed flawlessly. I've done some hardware hacks and it's been fun.

Re:Not what the masses want. (5, Insightful)

MozeeToby (1163751) | about 8 months ago | (#46820425)

I love how Apple has shown time and time again what the majority of customers want... except of course that the iPhone market share is a fraction what Android's is. And the mac market share is less than that of the much reviled Windows 8, not to mention about a fourth that of the no longer supported, 13 year old Windows XP. Apple doesn't know what the masses want, they know what a relatively small, though highly visible, affluent, influential group want.

Re:Not what the masses want. (2)

mjwx (966435) | about 8 months ago | (#46820489)

I love how Apple has shown time and time again what the majority of customers want... except of course that the iPhone market share is a fraction what Android's is. And the mac market share is less than that of the much reviled Windows 8, not to mention about a fourth that of the no longer supported, 13 year old Windows XP. Apple doesn't know what the masses want, they know what a relatively small, though highly visible, affluent, influential group want.

Apple doesn't know what they want.

Apple knows how to market and make people without the ability to decide things for themselves think they want their products. This is Apple's core audience, the people who cant pick what they want.

If the food service industry followed Apple's example, every restaurant would be a tarted up McDonalds and every restaurant would only serve one menu item at an inflated price. "Oh, you wanted Chicken, tough, you want beef and you're getting beef because we know what you want better than you do, that'll be $36.95 (plus taxes if you live in the US, Malaysia or Singapore)".

Re:Not what the masses want. (1)

Maury Markowitz (452832) | about 8 months ago | (#46821333)

> Apple doesn't know what they want.

Ummm, OK.

> This is Apple's core audience, the people who cant pick what they want.

Whereas Samsung's is giving people who can't pick what they want a lower cost option?

Or is there some part of the Samsung system I'm missing here? How do I replace the camera, for instance?

> every restaurant would be a tarted up McDonalds

This is already true. The most visited resteraunt with table service is Applebees, followed by Olive Garden and Chili's

Complain all you want, but this is precisely what people want.

Re:Not what the masses want. (1)

PIC16F628 (1815754) | about 8 months ago | (#46821405)

You are viewpoint is only from the US market where phones appear to be free because of bundling by telecom operators. In the rest of the world, consumers use their choice to buy phones and most would laugh at a phone that does not allow changing of batteries.

Re:Not what the masses want. (2)

PopeRatzo (965947) | about 8 months ago | (#46821577)

Oh, Apple knows what its customers want. And the good news is that since Lawrence v Texas, it's even legal.

Re:Not what the masses want. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46823939)

> Whereas Samsung's is giving people who can't pick what they want a lower cost option?

Samsung has:
3 large tablet sizes (8.6", 10.1" and 12"), 1 medium (7"), and at least 4-8 different phone sizes ranging from 3.5" to 6" - and that's just the past 12 months.
Some of those sizes has an enhanced (not just a piece of plastic) stylus (Note Series)
Each of those has at least 2 memory sizes
Some of those have an IR blaster, heart rate meter, etc.
Some of these have a good camera (S5's ISOCELL, some don't)
Price range from super-cheap $150 unsubsidized to $1,200.

APL has:
1 large tablet, 1 medium tablet, 2 phone sizes. (this is counting all-time)
None of these come with a smart stylus.
None of these come with IR blasters or heart rate meters.
Price range from $400-$1000

I think the OP has a point, even if you can't pick out an EXACT component and switch it out.

Re:Not what the masses want. (2)

gstoddart (321705) | about 8 months ago | (#46823225)

Apple knows how to market and make people without the ability to decide things for themselves think they want their products.

Oh, horseshit.

You don't choose Apple products. Fine. But don't make the assertion that people aren't capable of consciously choosing what they want and are therefore choosing Apple.

I know people who are Directors and VPs at technical firms who use Apple products. I know people who are software engineers who use Apple. I know little old ladies who have tried alternatives and chose Apple. I own several Apple devices. I also own several Android devices, a couple of Windows machines, a Linux box, and a FreeBSD box. And you know what? I'm going to buy another Apple product soon as well.

Please, don't go around spouting your opinions as if they are facts. It makes you look like an idiot.

And the irony of your sig is hilarious:

Calling someone a "hater" only means you can not rationally rebut their argument.

If you want someone to rationally rebut your argument, you first need to make a rational argument. If you are just going to make ad hominem attacks and act as if your opinion is a fact ... well, you're the one failing to make a rational case for why Apple is bad.

What you've said is "Apple are doodie heads, and all people who buy Apple products are doodie heads because I say so". Which puts your claims at about the intellectual level of a 5 year old.

Basically you've decided that you hate Apple. You can own that, and that's your choice.

But if you think just making the assertion that Apple is for people who can't pick what they want, you're full of shit.

Maybe, just maybe, people have picked exactly what they want, an what they want is what Apple is selling.

Re:Not what the masses want. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46820499)

>> I love how Apple has shown time and time again what the majority of customers want... except of course that the iPhone market share is a fraction what Android's is

And those Android phones are user upgradeable? No of course not. As for what consumers want, those people want cheap phones, and that is not part of Apple's business model.

Re:Not what the masses want. (1)

khellendros1984 (792761) | about 8 months ago | (#46820595)

And those Android phones are user upgradeable?

Replaceable and expandable memory and improved-capacity replacement batteries sound like upgrades to me.

Re:Not what the masses want. (1)

ChunderDownunder (709234) | about 8 months ago | (#46820801)

by memory you mean storage via an SD-card, no?

replaceable is swapping in extra RAM, upgrading the camera, swapping out the display for a holographic projector, swapping out the battery for a pico nuclear fusion cell, transferring your Cherry 2000's conscience from one skeleton to another, etc.

A truly extensible system would leave all your peripheral components intact and even swap in a new brain - e.g. dumping your Cortex A9 for a shiny new Atom Bay Trail. Dalvik bytecode is processor agnostic and linux is multiarch, so...

Re:Not what the masses want. (1)

BitZtream (692029) | about 8 months ago | (#46821691)

Holy shit, Cherry 2000 comics ... haven't seen those in over 20 years! Thanks for making me feel old! :)

Re:Not what the masses want. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46820855)

I am happy you guys have replacement batteries, android phones really need them. Everyone at my office who has one, even brand spanking new ones, are permanently on the charger at the office.

I still have a iPhone 3Gs, never changed the battery, it still has about 48 hours of charge even when playing music a whole day.

Re:Not what the masses want. (1)

pnutjam (523990) | about 8 months ago | (#46823959)

Droid Maxx from motorola gives me 2 days of hard use (gaming, music, maps, ebooks) on one charge.

Re:Not what the masses want. (1)

Kielistic (1273232) | about 8 months ago | (#46822289)

Unless you buy a Nexus of course.

Re:Not what the masses want. (1)

lister king of smeg (2481612) | about 8 months ago | (#46820603)

**replying to undo wrong moderation**

Re:Not what the masses want. (2)

gnasher719 (869701) | about 8 months ago | (#46821195)

I love how Apple has shown time and time again what the majority of customers want... except of course that the iPhone market share is a fraction what Android's is.

Apple doesn't want market share. If customer A buys a $600 iPhone, and customers B, C, D, E, F and G buy a $100 Android phone, Android has a six times higher market share. But both have the same revenue, and you may make a guess who makes a ton more profit.

Re:Not what the masses want. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46821293)

Irrelevant. The discussion is not about who can nickel and dime their loyal users the most. The discussion is about knowing what people want, and clearly people want a $100 phone.

Re:Not what the masses want. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46823741)

The reason the majority of those users are on Android... price. They just wanted cheaper iPhones. They don't care about Android, open source, or anything. The only remotely compelling feature Android phones truly have for average Joe is screen size. Apple has less market share because it chooses to. They want the majority of the market where the money is - expensive phones, tablets and laptops.

The only reason Windows continues to sell at all is that it's "familiar" and price.

Re:Not what the masses want. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46820447)

But but but 3D printers and like downloading parts and shit? Like, space colonies and nanocrystals! Luddite!

It could actually make sense for Apple... (1)

ChunderDownunder (709234) | about 8 months ago | (#46820505)

... if they get out of the hardware business and reinvent themselves as a software/content company. If hardware margins diminish, they could still make money on app sales, books, music and movies.

Current market share is what, optimistically, 25% ? That's 3/4 of the market that aren't iTunes customers.

Tie the iOS ROM specifically to an Apple A7 and charge OEMs a fee per CPU/ROM component.

Drivers? Develop an iOS shim over whatever Google is proposing for Android. Better yet, support os independent drivers e.g. efi bytecode.

Re:It could actually make sense for Apple... (1)

antifoidulus (807088) | about 8 months ago | (#46820547)

Um, you do realize that while the ios market share isn't as high as Android's, Apple actually sells more smartphone handsets than any manufacturer besides Samsung [gartner.com] ? So yeah, according to your logic Pepsi should just pack it up because they are #2 to Coke. No point in continuing on.

Re:It could actually make sense for Apple... (1)

ChunderDownunder (709234) | about 8 months ago | (#46820739)

That was not my point at all. The question is whether, in an era of interchangeable hardware components, whether Apple can make MORE money for shareholders through their online store by selling to consumers who would never buy a premium Apple handset.

Yes, I'm aware mac clones were tried last millennium but Apple's business model was different - today it's about the apple store.

You mention Samsung, they continue to threaten to move away from Android because they don't get their fair share from Google Play.

Re:It could actually make sense for Apple... (1)

Bing Tsher E (943915) | about 8 months ago | (#46821103)

Back in the day, there was probably a point when Apple sold more Macs than Compaq sold the equivalent over-priced high-end PCs, too.

That wasn't the computer that The Rest Of Us were using, though.

It's fascinating how Apple has managed to position themselves as facing a 'chief enemy' competitor in the cellphone market that is the equivalent of enemy 'IBM' back in the days of the early Mac. Apple needs a competitor that can be shape by their marketing gurus into a Emmanuel Goldstein-like being, so they can conduct little five minute hates.

That's when they're not pretending they produce the Mercedes of the cellphone market. In reality they make the Buick in a market of Chevys.

Pepsi versus Coke? It's a shame that Apple is reduced to a marketing hype operation, hawking overpriced sugarwater in the end. What would Scully say to Jobs now?

What laptop would you use then? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46820593)

What exactly would you replace the MacBook with though? I mean, they're certainly not perfect but I'd argue they're still one of the best high end laptops available right now. I mean, especially since it seems most other laptops are effectively rebadged Compals.

Does no-one remember drivers??? (0)

SuperKendall (25149) | about 8 months ago | (#46820747)

Not what the masses want.

It's REALLY not what the masses want when you consider drivers have to me made and maintained for each module... nothing like driver conflicts in your phone! I don't know that even many geeks want to go back to that model.

Re:Does no-one remember drivers??? (1)

GTRacer (234395) | about 8 months ago | (#46821773)

I'm completely spit-balling here, but what if each component needing drivers brought their own? I haven't seen the interconnect specs but could a firmware chip on the new component provide its own driver when connected?

Re:Does no-one remember drivers??? (1)

morgauxo (974071) | about 8 months ago | (#46822829)

I would love to see this, not just in mobile devices but in desktops as well! It would require some sort of standardized api that the drivers hook into. That would be tough to get across operating systems. New versions would have to always be backward compatible or risk obsoleting a bunch of hardware. That might be especially tough when a security bug is found in the API.

Re:Not what the masses want. (3, Insightful)

Camael (1048726) | about 8 months ago | (#46820961)

It'll be way too expensive to have a build your own phone.

Right now. Prices will go down assuming there is mass adoption. Remember than personal computers used to sell for 4 digit numbers in the past [wikipedia.org] .

And it's not what the majority of consumers want.

I don't agree. A lot of users seem to value customization and personalization. Just look at how huge is the market for phone casings, icon packs, wallpapers, custom ringtones...

Apple has proven this time and time again... They've built the largest computer (mostly mobile) empire on hardware that is idiot proof and has no options. This is what consumers want.

You do realise that Apple users are in no way, shape or form representative of the majority of phone users. According to this report from IDC which is the most current I could find, Android took 78.1% of the 4Q 2013 market share compared to iOS' 17.6% [idc.com] . It seems safe to conclude that most if not all of these users chose to pick up Android phones over the iPhone precisely because they were dissatisfied with some aspect of Apple's product, i.e. it was not what they wanted.

Also, one often cited reason for users switching from iPhone to Android is the lack of customisation options and/or lockdown of the devices and of the platform.

I don't like ios and most likely will never upgrade since I do not like their new models.

A somewhat ironic comment since your opinion is that Apple apparently knows what consumers want... with you being the exception?

Re:Not what the masses want. (1)

BitZtream (692029) | about 8 months ago | (#46821721)

Also, one often cited reason for users switching from iPhone to Android is the lack of customisation options and/or lockdown of the devices and of the platform.

Only when you question geeks like slashdotters. Your comment is so misrepresentative of that 78% that its close enough to being a lie to call it a lie.

The majority of the Android market is from free phones that are GIVEN AWAY with plans, not from actual phones that can do anything useful. Stop pretending everyone owns a Galaxy or Nexus.

Re:Not what the masses want. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46822267)

I got my Samsung Galaxy S4 from AT&T for free. Well, not free, I did have to extend my contract by 2 years, but you make it sound like it's only cheap phones that are given away. My actual out of pocket wound up being precisely zip.

Re:Not what the masses want. (1)

jareth-0205 (525594) | about 8 months ago | (#46821541)

So? Must we only build things for the masses?

Re:Not what the masses want. (1)

flyneye (84093) | about 8 months ago | (#46821637)

Historically speaking, you will find your premise off base.
It relys on a childlike belief, like Santa Claus or the Easter bunny, that actual support exists beyond the pimply teen behind the counter.
This fallacy is furthered by the presence of purported service phone numbers given you in order to dupe you into not wasting aforementioned teens time.
Here behind the number you will find an intricate time wasting system meant to direct you to eventually purchasing a new (or more) phone, manned by only a computer loaded with elevator music and ads, and an autistic janitor pretending he can help. Actually returning your phone will add all your personal info to a database run by a Romany dwarf and will also be used to entertain anyone working at the warehouse. This will only get you a new phone, that happens to be someone elses old phone, cleaned up and repackaged so you can act as a return tester, thus saving the phone company time and money.
Once again, thanks for playing , see you next time......

Re:Not what the masses want. (1)

morgauxo (974071) | about 8 months ago | (#46822725)

Why does everything have to be 'what the masses want'?

I'm pretty sure that in the US anyway more people eat Big Macs than Sushi. And yet I don't see all the Benihanas converting to McDonalds! Why can't somebody make something for a smaller, geekier market? Just look at personal computers pre-internet. That was a small, geeky market and yet a lot of people got rich off of it. Can't somebody cater to us today too?

Re: Not what the masses want. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46823121)

People don't know what they want. They want what is obvious to everyone - a feature-rich, reliable phone tailored to their needs, and cheap - but refuse to acknowledge, that in order to have something done right you have to do it yourself. So they settle for closed platforms and think they made the best choice possible "all things considering". And worst of all, they will defend their lazy choice by boasting about things they do not understand, therefore making others jump on the bandwagon. And on it goes until you get "evnagelists", self-proclaimed "geeks" running internet blogs and all that bull. It's exactly the same phenomenon as refusing to learn chemistry in school just because everyone hates it. Crowd mentality, nothing else.

People don't know what they want for themselves, and they don't want to know because they're either lazy, or scared of being unpopular.

Wrong application (1)

Animats (122034) | about 8 months ago | (#46820379)

This is a lousy idea for a smartphone, but it has potential as an industrial automation and robotics controller. Those are built up from lots of little modules, but the mechanical and electrical standards are decades old, and systems are too bulky. Think of this as a replacement for Arduino "shields", too.

Re:Wrong application (4, Interesting)

mjwx (966435) | about 8 months ago | (#46820513)

This is a lousy idea for a smartphone, but it has potential as an industrial automation and robotics controller. Those are built up from lots of little modules, but the mechanical and electrical standards are decades old, and systems are too bulky. Think of this as a replacement for Arduino "shields", too.

Actually its the right application.

Just not in the way most people are thinking.

Modular design leads to modular construction. Modular construction leads to lower prices via economies of scale. Many ./er's aren't old enough to remember when computers were monolithic pieces of silicon like phones are today, a single assembly with everything soldered in and not replaceable. If something broke, fixing it was expensive, If you needed anything bespoke it cost an absolute fortune. Now everyone and their dog (well, except Apple) offers many options for any run of the mill laptop, ordering a custom machine from Dell is easy, every corner computer shop can offer you a bespoke desktop at competitive prices because components fit together on standardised connectors like DIMM, PCI-e, SATA and USB.

As will it be with phones, Samsung, LG, et al. will simply assemble them out of component parts that simply slot together. Designing new phones will become simpler and easier. Having to produce custom radio's will be as simple as swapping a module. This is where the average person will benefit from lower prices.

Beyond that, there will still be people who upgrade. Computer component stores have not disappeared because Acer and Toshiba sell laptops that dont need extra bits. People still upgrade their hard drives, video cards or even buy entire bespoke machines. The same it will eventually be with phones, need more storage, get a storage module. New radio technology, get the new radio module. Want a mini HDMI port... you get the idea. Not everyone will upgrade their phones... in fact the majority wont, but there will be enough people who will to justify these modules selling to the general public.

Phone repairs, goes without saying this is definitely the way to go.

Modular phone designs will happen, not overnight, maybe not even in the next few years but it will eventually happen.

Re:Wrong application (1)

Electricity Likes Me (1098643) | about 8 months ago | (#46821111)

The real magic would be for processor makers. Being able to reliably ship new processors to the entire mobile phone market would be a hell of a thing for ARM. Just put out a new system module...

Re:Wrong application (1)

Bing Tsher E (943915) | about 8 months ago | (#46821151)

Many ./er's aren't old enough to remember when computers were monolithic pieces of silicon like phones are today, a single assembly with everything soldered in and not replaceable.

WTF? What alternative reality do you come from? Are you talking about low-end chunk-of-plastic computers like the C-64? (which, incidentally, had the full schematic diagram printed in the back of the owner's manual)

Because every IBM-PC sold back when they were sold by big monolithic IBM had plug in ISA cards. The video, drive controller, serial communication controllers were all plugin modules with what rapidly became an industry standard plugin footprint.

It sounds like you might be hearkening back to some middle period when Compaq and Dell were selling 'compatibles.' I remember Panasonic, Radio Shack, and AT&T computers that sported 8086/8 processors, that couldn't run stock MS-DOS and so had their own customized variants rebranded from Microsoft. But that wasn't what we were building. We bought 'PC Clone' hardware where the motherboard had a common footprint and dropped into whatever commodity case you chose. Just like today.

Or maybe you really are talking about 'the olden times' when you had to pay a very high-cost Customer Engineer to come out with an oscilloscope and a wirewrap gun if your PDP-8 went on the blink.

Re:Wrong application (1)

3.5 stripes (578410) | about 8 months ago | (#46821473)

I think he was talking about the Big Iron days of mainframes..

Re:Big Iron (1)

jabberw0k (62554) | about 8 months ago | (#46821699)

Except those were rack upon rack of glowing hot vacuum tubes all connected by point-to-point wiring with cabinets of core and drum memory alongside. Very much individual components, with the vacuum tubes having to be replaced at least one a day. These were then replaced with racks of transistor logic, and then IC logic, all on little replaceable cards. All designed for easy maintenance and in the hope that customers would upgrade their systems.

google will find a way to lock it down (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46820385)

Don't worry google will find a way to lock it down so it only runs android, and a couple of their modules.

Re:google will find a way to lock it down (1)

N3x)( (1722680) | about 8 months ago | (#46821455)

If you'd gotten your head out of your own ass for like 20 seconds you could easily read up on the article and realise that google fully intends to make this as open as possible. The only thing afaik that they are keeping for themselves is the endo. Everything else is open and license free. I'm not even sure they can enforce android although if you want to join their ecosystem of stores and whatnot im pretty sure android is the only way. I think that Googles entire goal with this is to break manufacturers monopoly on handsets and get android under more central control as no one will be running samsung-android or htc-android on these things

But (1)

rossdee (243626) | about 8 months ago | (#46820387)

How is that going to work with something the size of a phone?

Unless you've got micro-waldos to fiddle with it.

Maybe circa 2007 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46820401)

This might have been reasonable years ago, but now phones are getting powerful enough that their hardware is much less of a factor in the user experience. Software is the critical thing on phones now.

Why would anyone want the hassle of piecing together a phone anyway? That sounds like something only /. would be in favor of.

Re:Maybe circa 2007 (1)

ChunderDownunder (709234) | about 8 months ago | (#46820849)

Grandma won't be assembling them from scratch.

She will benefit when she can get a top specced phone from a generic Chinese factory for a fifth of the price of the latest Galaxy model because now *anyone* can become a smartphone assembler.

Re:Maybe circa 2007 (1)

kyrsjo (2420192) | about 8 months ago | (#46820953)

Nah, I could very well imagine getting a decently spec'ed Android with dual or maybe even triple SIM. And a extra-high capacity battery.

Re:Maybe circa 2007 (1)

6Yankee (597075) | about 8 months ago | (#46821217)

"Why would anyone want the hassle of piecing together a phone anyway?"

I'd have said the same thing about teddy bears, but there's a damn Build A Bear Workshop everywhere I look these days :)

dying desktop modularity, so why? (2)

dltaylor (7510) | about 8 months ago | (#46820405)

Except for a very few hardcore HW geeks (like me), "modular" PCs are simply not useful. Once a IT department has standardized, they don't change until the vendor stops making the base model, and the PCs are nearly always locked down to simplify support (never mind the stupidity/insanity/bullying by Microsoft that makes many upgrades have to re-authenticate). There's a small market, gamers mostly, that cycle through video cards, and more rarely, HDs/SSDs, but that's about it.

For example, the refurbished desktop (Dell T5400) I'm using for this posting has only the motherboard and CPU left from the minimum-corporate original configuration, but that cost less than a Xeon X5570 and compatible motherboard would have cost me when I bought it, and I've filled every slot, but one.

More likely, end users will rarely change a component, and phone vendors may find modularity useful for prototyping, but they won't bear the cost of the connectors.

Re:dying desktop modularity, so why? (3, Insightful)

kyrsjo (2420192) | about 8 months ago | (#46820989)

I suspect it's still pretty common to upgrade RAM and harddisk. Maybe many user's doesn't do it themselves, but ask their son / granddaughter / son-in-law / friendly neighbourhood geek why their computer is so slow - which often responds to upgrading the RAM. Similar when a HDD fails - you, or a friend, or the shop will repair it by swapping out the HDD.

And most of these things are really easy in most of todays laptops - when my mother in law was complaining about exactly this, I ordered up the RAM it needed and showed her how to install it when it showed up in the mail. She managed just fine (one screw to open the cover, pop out the old board and click in the new. We did't bother with the board sitting below the keyboard).

Similar when the HDD of my Dell Latitude failed - they sent me a new HDD in a box with a small paper slip instructing me to turn it off, remove battery and charger, undo the one screw holding the HDD and it's cover in place, slide out the old one, slide in the new one, and replace the cover + screw. Apparently Dell tought it to be easy enough for all their customers to manage.

So when I drop my phone... (5, Funny)

scorp1us (235526) | about 8 months ago | (#46820429)

It falls into a dozen parts that I can't recover in the dark. Made harder by the fact that the LED light bounced somewhere and is now under someone's foot.
Right now, I just have 3 parts: phone, battery and back cover to worry about.

Re:So when I drop my phone... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46820503)

I don't think it's gonna be a Lego phone, but that'd be cool.

If I had a dime every time a smartass said that... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46820697)

The magnets exert 30 N (6.74 lb) in lock state. It won't be falling apart.

Or just use a damn case, like you should for any expensive phone.

Re:If I had a dime every time a smartass said that (1)

Goaway (82658) | about 8 months ago | (#46822213)

And much less as soon as they move even slightly apart, like from a shock. That's the thing with magnets, they stay in place until given a tug or shock. Apple's MagSafe connector uses magnets exactly because it comes off so easy when tugged.

Re:So when I drop my phone... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46820761)

It falls into a dozen parts that I can't recover in the dark.

With the big difference that the parts are supposed to go back together unlike when your current phone falls into a dozen parts.

If dropping your phone is a problem common enough for you to be concerned with when buying you should probably get one with a strap that you can have around your neck.
Let me guess, you are also that guy that spills out his coffee way more frequently than others.

Re:So when I drop my phone... (2)

Bing Tsher E (943915) | about 8 months ago | (#46821191)

On your new Apple phone, you'll have a little pile of fragments of sapphire to sweep up.

What makes you think the case design on these things will be as bad as Apple's case design on the Newton? (one of Apple's last ventures into customer-openable moble-device case devices)

The things will hold up to ordinary use and droppage, or they won't make it onto the market.

Re:So when I drop my phone... (1)

scorp1us (235526) | about 8 months ago | (#46822569)

Well, how much of your phone should be packaging? If you wrap your components in a case (which you have to do) then have a case around the baseboard and those components, you now have two layers of casing, and you're going to be generating millimeters of additional size all around. If you want a drop-survivable shell, you add more millimeters on top of that. Remember, it's still has to fit in your pocket.

The Nexus 5 and iPhone are only so small because it's all permanently fixed together, needing only one casing.

Not going to be mainstream. (1)

mtippett (110279) | about 8 months ago | (#46820431)

There will probably be a market for this in the tech enthusiast. But it will be highly unlikely to go mainstream. Mainstream (iphone 5s) is 7.6mm thick and weighs. According to http://motorolaara.com/2013/10... [motorolaara.com] it is probably about 9.3mm - effectively as chunky as a 2 year old device.

What may evolve from this is specialist hardware and specialist configurations.

Some interesting spin-off technologies might be high speed bus interconnects (thunderbolt 2), modular and novel hardware configs (3d scanning - project tango, yotaphone - e-ink backside). Ultimately, enabling technology advances is what google spends it money on these days...

Re:Not going to be mainstream. (1)

compro01 (777531) | about 8 months ago | (#46820501)

Mainstream (iphone 5s) is 7.6mm thick and weighs. According to http://motorolaara.com/2013/10... [motorolaara.com] it is probably about 9.3mm - effectively as chunky as a 2 year old device.

How the hell is that at all relevant? Do you need that 1.7mm shaved off so it will fit into the pocket of your skinny jeans?

Re:Not going to be mainstream. (1)

ChunderDownunder (709234) | about 8 months ago | (#46820831)

Smaller components, bigger battery.

What about the price? (1)

zisel (3561213) | about 8 months ago | (#46820449)

Sounds great but what about the price. For sure, it is not cheap than usual smartphone that we see in the market.

Re:What about the price? (1)

N3x)( (1722680) | about 8 months ago | (#46821463)

As they are targeting this phone specifically at the poor featurephone users i'm sure no one in google headquarters has given this any thought at all.

Solution in search of a problem (2)

Ralph Spoilsport (673134) | about 8 months ago | (#46820559)

I have a cellphone. It is an Applie iPhone 3GS I got two years ago as a free upgrade from my flip phone.It works fine. My wife and daughter have Samsung Galaxy 3. They work. We can call each other and text each other, and if we have time, wecan play games on them and occasionally listen to music. Will this new device help that? Not really, not for FREE, which is what we paid for our phones. Ara is a solution to a problem we don't (and no one I know) has.

Re: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46820845)

> We all have shit phones and we're happy, why does anyone need anything else

You wouldn't have felt the need to point that out if you genuinely believed it.

And listening to music is a solution to a problem that no one has, but the music industry is worth billions of dollars a year. What does that tell you?

Re:Solution in search of a problem (2)

Adam Jorgensen (1302989) | about 8 months ago | (#46821011)

I don't know about you,but I hardly ever use the camera on my phone. Or any of the phones I've used. I would happily just not have a camera in the phone at all...

Re:Solution in search of a problem (1)

Ralph Spoilsport (673134) | about 8 months ago | (#46822791)

So, you'd be willing to pay extra to not have a phone? As I noted, we got those phones for FREE. They work fine. They're phones. They have cameras. I think I've used my phone camera, maybe 3 times in 2 years - so, I dig what you're saying. I couldn't care less if it had a phone or not. On the three occasions I needed one it was nice to have, but yes, I could live without it. But I got it for FREE. I'm not going to pay to not have one...

Re:Solution in search of a problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46822833)

Your phones were not free. You paid for them monthly as part of your contract.

We'd need a common hardware interface (1)

Casandro (751346) | about 8 months ago | (#46820629)

Something that already exists on the PC. You can trivially boot up any operating system you want on any PC and the basic things like the display and the input devices will just work.
This is because the PC platform not only has certain basic hardware components standardised, but also because there are interfaces to enumerate the hardware you have. Once you have your kernel in memory and running, it can simply look for the hardware and access the hardware accordingly.

On ARM there is no such thing as a PCI bus. Therefore your kernel needs to be compiled for the very device you want to use it for. You cannot just compile in the most common ethernet controllers into your kernel and expect it to choose the right one. This may work, but very likely your first driver will try to probe blindly for its device, crashing your system, before the second one even has a chance to run.

This is why there are movements to create a common hardware interface, one where you just have a single operating system image running on a huge variation of hardware just like on the PC. Unfortunately the business model of ARM doesn't help here. ARM licenses its cores to many SoC manufacturers. Each one of them hopes to lock in its customers making it deliberately hard to switch to any of their competitors. A common interface would sweep away the borders. You could switch from manufacturer A to manufacturer B just like you can switch from a Dell PC to an HP one.

Re:We'd need a common hardware interface (1)

Namarrgon (105036) | about 8 months ago | (#46820787)

Turns out, there already exists such a thing. ARA will use UniPro [wikipedia.org] , a layered, low-power, scalable bus protocol capable of up to 24Gbps.

Re:We'd need a common hardware interface (1)

Casandro (751346) | about 8 months ago | (#46820835)

Yes and so is USB, the question is, will the controllers for it be the same?
There is some pressure for such standards from the ARM-hosting crowd, since ARM based servers would fill a very interesting niche in the market.

Re:We'd need a common hardware interface (1)

BitZtream (692029) | about 8 months ago | (#46821731)

... there isn't one for your ARM devices, it certainly could be built. Its not like PCIand bus enumeration is exclusive to x86, I've built it into arduino devices for instance.

Re:We'd need a common hardware interface (1)

gnasher719 (869701) | about 8 months ago | (#46823393)

Something that already exists on the PC. You can trivially boot up any operating system you want on any PC and the basic things like the display and the input devices will just work.

iPhone users can trivially boot up any operating system they want; it's called iOS. Android phone users can trivially boot up any operating system they want; it's called Android. How many people want to boot up two operating systems?

Ground breaking stuff... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46820665)

With Ara, a dead battery in the middle of a day trip doesn’t set off a frantic search for someone with a charger. Instead, you pop in a spare.

Revolutionary.

Wait, what? (2)

DerekLyons (302214) | about 8 months ago | (#46820671)

From TFS: "Now that Google's modular phone effort, Project Ara, looks a bit less like vaporware"

Wait... what hallucinogenics is "anymous reader" overdosing on to come to the conclusion that Project Ara "looks a bit less like vaporware"? It's nothing but a bunch of sketches, pretty graphics, cheap models, and vague design concepts. It's practically the very effin' definition of vaporware.

Re:Wait, what? (1)

Zuriel (1760072) | about 8 months ago | (#46820951)

Google is sure enough that it'll come to market to announce a release date. A vague one, true, but it's now an upcoming product rather than a research project that may or may not go somewhere.

They've released a Module Developer's Kit and held a developer's conference. They have prototype hardware and a version of Android that supports it due mid-May.

I'm not sure what else they can do besides actually sell you the finished product.

Re:Wait, what? (1)

thegarbz (1787294) | about 8 months ago | (#46821305)

With a beta released developers kit complete? At least it's Vapourware that is being worked on.

Re:Wait, what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46821351)

they have working prototypes by now, which is a lot further then "nothing but a bunch of sketches, pretty graphics, cheap models, and vague design concepts"

You're underestimating how groundbreaking this is (3, Insightful)

atari2600a (1892574) | about 8 months ago | (#46820677)

It's not going to be LIKE the PC ecosystem; it IS the PC ecosystem, just with new players. 10 years from now your Replicators, laptops & server clusters are all going to be sporting Ara-derived chassis. You heard it here first, kids. Why deal with Intel & IBM's bullshit when you have a architecture-agnostic interface ready to go? A computer is the result of an accumulation of standards & as someone that's taken a decades-long generalistic approach to the industry, this IS the new standard. Maybe not in its initial public incarnation, but 2.0'll hit it of just like Android 2.0 took over mobile software.

where's the money? (1)

swell (195815) | about 8 months ago | (#46820731)

TFA doesn't explain what would motivate entrepreneurs to invest in this concept. Suppose you have a great idea for a module- are you willing to design & fabricate it for an unknown number of buyers? Not as easy as selling an app for a known market of millions.

Re:where's the money? (1)

N3x)( (1722680) | about 8 months ago | (#46821489)

Well for starters this is the first time ever that a small company is even capable of building mobile phone parts without bending over for the big mobile phone makers. If I can design a small battery for instance thats way better than the stock batteries but somewhat more expensive I could easily have thousands of customers which would be fine for a small company but not get millions of customers which is a must for a big company.

Phonebloks anyone? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46820931)

https://phonebloks.com/en/goals
http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-24490331

Is google now just copying without even attributing?

Re:Phonebloks anyone? (1)

Camael (1048726) | about 8 months ago | (#46821003)

Umm... Project Ara and Phonebloks are partners [pcmag.com] , yo.

The Ara group has already partnered with 3D Systems and Phonebloks, and plans to collaborate with more partners, including academic experts at MIT and Carnegie Mellon, CNET said.

I don't think the big manufacturers will go for it (0)

Unkl_Shvelven (1002053) | about 8 months ago | (#46821029)

The big manufacturers like Samsung, HTC, et al. will probably continue to sell one-off phone models like they do now. "People who just want a decent phone" is the majority of the smartphone market, and the big companies probably won't want to lose their current model of selling you a new phone every two years.

That said, I would love to be proven wrong—all it takes is for one of them to start doing it and the rest will likely follow suit.

Liquid Cooled (1)

Bing Tsher E (943915) | about 8 months ago | (#46821057)

So enthusiasts can build liquid-cooled cellphones that are overclocked? With windowed cases and cabling with LED racer lights running up and down them? What are the graphic card options?

so much negativity (5, Insightful)

renzhi (2216300) | about 8 months ago | (#46821061)

WTF? Where is the geek spirit in this /. crowd? When a manufacturer releases a phone with battery soldered, everyone's complaining. When a laptop manufacturer releases a laptop that you can't upgrade, complaining again. Now that people are putting effort to allow you to custom your mobile device till your heart bleeds, you are complaining again.

I had enough of phones that I have to throw away because of one very small, and not even the most important, component went bad, and I can't do anything. And it's not worth repairing coz the repair cost is almost as high, or even higher, than buying a new phone. What a fucking waste of resources.

Give me this modular design anyday. I've been waiting for someone to do this for laptop and mobile phone for a decade. Can't come soon enough.

Just release the design, release the interface, make it so open that anyone on the planet can manufacture components without huge license cost, and let the market decide. I'm sure there will a lot of entrepreneurial folks who will set up shop to assemble this into a nice package for your customization. Just like the PC era. Bring it on. There will be a lot of new applications. Talk about wearables? Wait till you have all these components that you can assemble the way you like it.

Re:so much negativity (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46821167)

WTF? Where is the geek spirit in this /. crowd? When a manufacturer releases a phone with battery soldered, everyone's complaining. When a laptop manufacturer releases a laptop that you can't upgrade, complaining again. Now that people are putting effort to allow you to custom your mobile device till your heart bleeds, you are complaining again.

That is because we are different persons. We have different opinions and different desires.
The groupthink idea is is an interesting theory but it is mostly an illusion of all letters looking the same on the Internet as opposed to the different voices you hear in an offline conversation.
You must be pretty narcissistic to think that you are the only individual here.

Re:so much negativity (2)

swb (14022) | about 8 months ago | (#46821563)

I think its also a mistake to look at this as just a modular phone ecosystem. Just because the pieces as presented fit together in a phone doesn't mean the concept couldn't be extended to other devices.

I think you now have an ecosystem that would include phones, tablets and probably cross over into laptops and other devices currently using embedded "small computer" environments like TVs, set top boxes, etc.

Tablets are an automatic extension of the idea because they're just big phones in most cases. Set top boxes and TVs are examples of devices whose software capabilities in terms of CPU and RAM are almost always obsolete long before their principal purpose (eg, the display on a TV) is.

It's not hard to see an ultrabook style laptop that's just a keyboard/display that could slot in a phone components.

Awesome desktop (1)

cerberusss (660701) | about 8 months ago | (#46821155)

If it runs some version of desktop Linux, this could be an awesome desktop. With a built-in UPS and a backup 3G network connection. You'd never shut it down because it's so focused on power savings that it's not really worth it. It would run off a standard USB charger.

It would be great if you could upgrade the CPU and 3D graphics to something tablet or desktop-ish. I could envision a chassis/case that has the standard Project Ara backplane, but mounted below a fan. Bonus points if you can overclock the CPU.

Re:Awesome desktop (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46821253)

This. While we don't know all the specs and limitations there's nothing to force phoneblocks to be exclusively for phones or tablets. Imagine if you had a big heavy 3D graphics block that had it's own power supply, and a block that supported a display port plug (suddenly your phoneblocks becomes a desktop PC).

To put it another way, could phoneblocks become a new form of modular general purpose computer for all levels? - At the most basic level I'm thinking of a USB powered device with phoneblock slots but at a more advanced level motherboards with integrated block frames.

I would be interested in seeing if someone creates a bus module that allows multiple phone block structural frames to interconnect, meaning you don't need to purchase the tablet frame to make a tablet, just combine two phone frames together with a tablet screen.

Being able to have a modular usb connected phoneblock device on my computer would eliminate web cameras, 3G dongles along with all sorts of other features phones have that desktops do not.

Re:Awesome desktop (1)

N3x)( (1722680) | about 8 months ago | (#46821505)

yes. If this takes of I would expect laptops and possibly cars and home appliances to get ara-ports for upgradeable network connectivity and such

Because it totally worked for modular laptops (2)

pabr (3624161) | about 8 months ago | (#46821213)

From 2006 [slashdot.org] : "With laptops becoming more modular, and the use of mini PCI or PCI express cards for most of the components, are we going to start to see more third party upgrade options for laptops ? [...] Are we going to soon be able to easily upgrade the processors in the laptops as well?"

Don't get me wrong, I'd love to be able to plug a logic analyzer or ham radio module into my smartphone, but I can't see why the mass market would tolerate the extra cost, weight and failure modes of a modular phone.

Re:Because it totally worked for modular laptops (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46821477)

The same way they tolerate it all now, buying mass produced pre assembled devices from manufactures as they have done with PC's all this time.

What is standardization? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46821251)

"If you think fragmentation is bad now, imagine trying to support thousands of different hardware combinations"
Yeah, because we had it way easier when there were a myriad of PC hardware platforms than we do now, right?

Universal Firmware to enable Android Linux Distros (1)

joelholdsworth (1095165) | about 8 months ago | (#46821413)

I want Universal Firmware - or at least universal to the CPU architecture (ARM, MIPS etc.). It could be supported right now if Android were to make Kernel Device Trees [devicetree.org] required or if we had *gasp* discoverable busses as we do on the PC.

Then we would be able to have Android or Linux distributions for mobile like we have Linux distributions for the PC. I could buy all kinds of interesting devices from China, and know that I will be able to upgrade them with my favourite "distro" without having to hack about with some guy's weekend project on the XDA developers forum.

Linux is the Power behind (1)

gokhanozcan (2883477) | about 8 months ago | (#46821583)

From system point of view there wouldn't be any complications with different hardware combinations. Linux handled the multi-core transition seemlessly, I have no doubt it will handle the Phonebloks too. However I think that there is a way to go for the Apps and the android.

Google proves it's not a hardware company (0)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about 8 months ago | (#46822137)

Once again Google proves that it's not a hardware company - they just have too much money to throw around. A modular phone is the dumbest idea I've ever heard of. Despite what they may claim, it'll be larger and more fragile that a non-mobile phone with the same capabilities.

As for Google hardware in general, remember how well they did w/ Motorola Mobility? It also makes me sad to think of how many robotics companies they've bought. Robots are a mix of hardware and software, and Google will never get it right. Doesn't Sergey have enough toys already?

Out of your minds (1)

Darth Snowshoe (1434515) | about 8 months ago | (#46822933)

Let me just say, I'm certain that I don't want to have to choose every component of my phone, at any level of granularity less than "the whole phone", and then assemble it, do maintenance on it, troubleshoot why some piece of third-party software isn't working with my particular mix of phone parts.

You're imagining a system where everything 'just works' for a gigantic ecosystem that somehow increases your choices and simultaneously decreases the cost to get exactly the options YOU want. It's not going to happen.

Cash grab? (1)

gstoddart (321705) | about 8 months ago | (#46822943)

I know manufacturers are looking for the next big gravy train they can count on to pad out revenues and guarantee executive profits.

But I see this as being niche at best, and completely undesirable at worst.

It's my freaking phone. I don't want to be swapping out video cards and tweaking it.

I, for one, will not be interested in this. And I predict a very tiny amount of people ever will.

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