In the eyes of many, the smartphone industry has been stuck in an innovative drought over the past few years or so. The smartphone industry was once very alive while manufacturers figured out which designs and features worked best for smartphone users. Smartphones used to vary greatly in variety, but lately that variety has dwindled down to just a select few that look anything but your typical slab design.
However, when it comes down to it, the models that do break from the mold of your typical slab-style smartphone hardly ever do as well as the ones that use the slab design - this is the design that won over all of the other varying designs. When it comes to new and unique smartphone designs, we’ve already figured out what sells best. It looks something like this:
And probably this:
Which all look pretty similar to one another when you put it into perspective. We come out with phones that still try to keep things interesting, like the rounded displays or displays that feature edges, but at the end of the day those usually end up becoming niche designs. All hope is not lost, though, when it comes to innovation in the industry; in fact, it would seem like a huge breakthrough is about to happen, and it will come in the form of Google’s Project Ara.
Project Ara will be the world’s first smartphone that uses a modular design. This means that users will be able to select what their phone features themselves, and what’s better is that they’ll be able to switch out these features whenever they want to. That also means that when one aspect of the phone is having trouble, you don’t have to replace the entire phone - you simply replace whatever it is that isn’t working (assuming that it’s just a fluke with that one feature and you didn’t drop the whole thing in a puddle or something).
I’ve been pretty excited about Project Ara since I first heard that Google set the plan in motion. When I first heard about its base concept, which was initally called Phonebloks, I had entertained the thought of modular smartphones but with the original campaign being a kickstarter from an unknown company, well... those don’t always end up succeeding, no matter how cool the idea is. My enthusiasm was limited at the time. With Google on board, my hopes for Project Ara are much higher.
Which isn’t to say that Google isn’t subject to failure of their own. After all, Google Glass didn’t quite work out like everyone thought it would. There’s a slew of Google Services that have come and gone (there’s even a virtual cemetery for such services, in which you can leave a virtual flower for your most beloved deceased services) but the reality is that Google’s resources and social influence make Ara much more likely to succeed.
I can see modular designs going either way. It can either have massive success, or it can be a massive flop, but my guess would have to go with massive success at this point.
Here’s why: Very seldomly do I come across somebody who is 100%, beyond the shadow-of-a-doubt happy with their smartphone past the honeymoon phase. After a few weeks, maybe a couple of months at most, most people will have found things about their smartphone that they don’t like. Perhaps it’s the battery life, or the camera software, the size of the screen, or the amount of storage they have. There are a lot that people won’t realize until later what they would change about their phone if they could. With a modular phone, most of the things they would change about a phone can be changed. You’ll be able to change how fast your phone is, the camera quality, the battery life, the storage amount, and the size of the screen. Modular smartphones allow users to change these things after the honeymoon phase simply by switching out the physical modules.
But you also have to consider that there’s a lot about this modular design that we don’t know about. We don’t know how much modules will cost, or if brand-specific modules will become a problem in the future. There are a lot of potential problems that could come with the modular design that we’re not able to see until the actual device is being used in a normal, day-to-day setting. There is the potential for things to go very wrong.
If things do go right with Project Ara, I think smartphones will start to take a major turn in design and end up following suit. Unlike rounded displays or edges, I see a modular design having a positive impact by being able to solve a lot of issues that smartphones currently face. Because of this, I think both manufacturers and users alike will be on board with the change.
Readers, what are your thoughts on Project Ara at this point? Do you think that Project Ara has the potential to impact smartphone design as we know it, switching from a set slab design over to modular design?