Modular smartphones are a fantastic idea, let’s bring them back


One of the main arguments as to why PC is considered better than Mac computers is because of their modular nature. This allows users to swap out parts or add to their build as and when they need. Run out of storage? No problem, just slot in an extra HDD. Need more RAM? All you need is to slot in an extra RAM stick and you’re good to go.

Unfortunately, this is not the case with smartphones, where we are actively encouraged to make upgrades every year or every other year.

But if you recall, several years ago, Motorola (while it was owned by Google) embarked on an ambitious quest to create a modular smartphone in the form of Project Ara. The idea was similar to building a PC, where users could swap parts in and out as needed, giving users more choice and flexibility in creating a phone specifically for themselves and their needs.

Despite many promises to launch the device, Project Ara ultimately ended up being quite the flop and was cancelled, but now that we’re in 2020 with a lot more experience on our hands, should the modular smartphone concept be revisited?

Yes, because why not?

Full Customization And Flexibility

One of the things lacking in our smartphones these days is flexibility in terms of its physical components. We pretty much have to accept whatever companies throw at us, even though sometimes we wished that a phone would have better battery life, a brighter display, more RAM, more storage, and so on.

Modular smartphones can solve that problem where if you need a phone that has fantastic battery life, simply buy a bigger battery module and attach it to your phone. Or maybe you prefer having an ultra wide-angle camera over superzoom, swapping out the camera module will solve that as well.

Focused Development On Individual Components

By creating modules and components, it can allow companies to focus on the development of these modules, as opposed to trying to create a smartphone as a whole. Apps are a perfect example, where there are plenty of third-party apps out there that outperform native apps due to their focused development on it.

This could also lead to completely brand new industries where third-party modules and components for smartphones are being developed.

Better For The Environment (Potentially)

Whenever we upgrade our phones, we basically give up the previous phone in favor of the new one. While companies like Apple try their best to harvest as much as the old tech and materials as possible, it feels like an uphill battle. By creating modular components, customers only need to upgrade parts they need.

This in turn could potentially reduce the amount of resources we need to consume to make a smartphone. For example, users who are perfectly happy with the current camera system and don’t see the need to upgrade can choose to keep it and upgrade other parts of their phone.

This is versus the current situation where components for cameras are still being made even though it might not necessarily be a feature that the customer has asked for or is prioritizing.

The Challenges

That being said, we understand that there was probably a reason why Project Ara failed. It could have been due to technical issues where maybe a modular smartphone just wasn’t feasible at that time. It might have also been a financial issue where perhaps trying to create multiple modules was an inventory nightmare which could leave companies sitting on a lot of unsold products.

However, like we said, we are in 2020 now, so maybe taking the experience we’ve gained over the past 3-4 years and revisiting the concept of modular smartphones might not be such a bad idea.

Tyler Lee
A graphic novelist wannabe. Amateur chef. Mechanical keyboard enthusiast. Writer of tech with over a decade of experience. Juggles between using a Mac and Windows PC, switches between iOS and Android, believes in the best of both worlds.

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