What if you had the same phone for not one year, not two years . . . but decades? In an ecosystem where most users replace their devices every 365 days, that kind of lasting power is unthinkable.
But Google's experimental group is making the impossible possible with Project Ara, a new kind of phone that is designed to last a really, really long time. It's also poised to change the way smartphones are made forever — and our world will be better for it. The phone was first announced in 2014, and this week during a Project Ara developer's conference, Google revealed that Puerto Rico will serve as the first test market for this long-lasting phone later this year.
Even if you're an iPhone-until-I-die devotee, this phone concept is just too cool to ignore.
Solving the E-Waste Problem
Say your phone's camera decides to stop working. If you have an iPhone or a Samsung Galaxy, this means that you either A) spend an insane amount of cash getting it replaced, B) embark on a very risky DIY repair mission, or C) throw away the phone and get a new one. For most, the best option is C — which is why we rack up hundreds of thousands of tons of electronic waste every year across the globe.
Project Ara is hoping to reverse this trend. Instead of hiding the phone's components behind a complicated, enclosed seal, its hardware is modular, like a Lego structure, meaning that you can slide different parts in and out at any time. When there's a better mobile camera available, users can upgrade by swapping out just that one piece, rather than buying a whole new phone and disposing of a device with perfectly sufficient working parts.
The phone's modular hardware is controlled by an Android app, which can unlock components that need replacing. There's just one core structural frame that holds the phone's various bits in place. As long as the slim aluminum skeleton remains the same, it's a phone that could last a lifetime. A modular phone also means that every device is uniquely tailored to each owner's needs.
Getting the Whole World on Board (and Online)
Smartphones are a luxury — a status symbol, even. A new deep dive with Time Techland reveals Project Ara is hoping to break some barriers by pricing its phone as low as $50 . . . so that as its owner's budget expands, he or she can upgrade modules, making the phone better over time.
The team behind Project Ara is Motorola's Advanced Technology and Projects Group, which is the only faction of the company Google kept after selling Motorola to Lenovo. One of Google's main advocacy issues is getting the rest of the globe online, and Project Ara is helping to get Internet access to those five billion currently offline Earthlings with its low cost and highly customizable modular system.