Imagine your phone as the ultimate Swiss Army knife, the perfect toolkit. What would you want on yours? A mini screwdriver, a fingerprint scanner, a bottle opener? With Google Project Ara phones, the attachment possibilities are endless.
Ara’s mix-and-match nature lets you upgrade components a la carte, and play around with leftover ports.
Google’s current design for an Ara handset — the endoskeleton, in Ara-speak — features 12 connection ports for snapping on rectangular modules like the battery and processor (really!). The main point is that Project Ara’s somewhat radical (and provocative) approach to smartphone-building is also one that for the first time gives buyers a form of creative expression not just over what their device looks like, but also what it does.
For instance, when your phone is fully charged, you could swap out the charging port in favor of a near-field communications (NFC) chip to make mobile payments. Or maybe it’s the regular camera module that gets the boot, in favor of one with a specialized infrared nighttime lens.
If you were so inclined, you could even temporarily replace a nonessential unit, like that selfsame camera, with a tiny pack of breath strips to combat a garlicky afternoon out.
Others are more fanciful, like a snap-on Pico projector or ultraloud speaker, a pill box or a CB radio. Then there are the attachments. Imagine picking up a flip cover that also houses an e-ink screen, or a snap-on game pad for playing retro titles.
Athletes could swap in any number of modules with more powerful, sensor-based functions for their sport. Health-care providers and patients could likewise add a specialized module for tracking certain long-term conditions.
We need these reach-for-the-stars ideas in all areas of technology development, to inspire us past the sameness of so many devices. Besides, these ideas tend to transmute, growing beyond their initial hardware limitations and morphing into something stronger when engineers iron out the technical kinks.
Ara is a fun idea that won’t overtake the mainstream soon, but the important thing in dreaming up all manner of modular clip-ons is that it sets brains thinking about what’s possible for phones, and what’s next.