Phonebloks is a word I never saw mentioned in the same sentence with Project Ara since I started following the progress of Google’s modular phone last year. Apparently, Phonebloks was the precursor of Ara going by the online buzz surrounding Dave Hakkens’ blog post
Dave Hackers was the man who originated the idea of a modular phone in 2013. His vision was to create a completely modular phone. The underlying motivation was his own contribution to a greener planet. Less carbon footprint and all that. The concept of Phonebloks tied in with the notion of reducing electronic waste in the immediate future. Which of course is plausible if you look at how the Phonebloks inspired modular phone was suppose to work. Users of a modular phone would have a highly customizable gadget in their hands. And because each component part of the phone can easily be replaceable, one can keep a single smartphone for years. The way middle class people can use their cars for a long time.
Phonebloks vs Project Ara.
Project Ara has suffered a lot of setbacks since the beginning of the project. Though it wasn’t shrouded in mystery, the silence from Google over the status of the project gave room for a lot of assumptions. One such assumption was that Google was quietly winding down the project. Ostensibly because it wasn’t financially feasible.
However, the latest cheering news about Project Ara came at this year’s Google i/O conference held in California between the 18 and 20th of this month. The news that every one thought was good was anything but for Dave Hakkens. His main grouse was that the whole concept of Phonebloks has being totally abandoned by the direction Ara is headed. And to make matters worse, Google seem to be the only firm interested in making a modular phone. Which invariably means that Google could decide to make the phone too expensive.
Hakkens really had a compelling argument in his post. And it is really worth taking a look at what he had to say about the contrast between the vision of Phonebloks and the reality of Ara.
Project Ara is Less Modular
Dave Hakkens is not happy that Ara has only six modules. The modules, according to him, are not even the really important ones like sensors, CPU, antennas, battery and display. The modules in project Ara are just the camera, speakers and scanners etc. In effect, the main frame of Ara is a fully functional smartphone having all the essential components permanently attached to it. Implying that with Ara, users would need to Change phones after a while. Just like regular phones.
Google in Charge of Everything
The original concept of Phonebloks was that it would be a truly open project where anybody can get it. Hakkens think that idea is quite dead. Though any developer can build modules for the phone, they have to abide by the rules set by Google. Making it a Google-only project. This can kill independent evolution to a better modular phone. Or at best, leading to an unhealthy competition between firms about who would create the better modular phone.
I’m not sure Hakkens is against competition. In this case, he’d prefer makers of modular phones to collaborate on the project. The sole aim of which is to bring out better and better modular phones for the world. Collaboration is not going to work for so many reasons. Hakkens is a well-intentioned idealist, but the idea of big tech firms coming together to design and build a modular phone is a non-starter. Already, the concept of a modular phone is a threat to some smartphone OEMs. So what is the benefit of encouraging it.
Lets leave the last words to Dave Hakkens:
Google is by far putting the most effort in the modular phone. They have the balls and resources to try it out. And it is amazing how far they come and how they are pushing the limits. But as being one of the most powerful companies in the world with a serious amount of resources available I also think they could do better. Don’t focus on making the next phone that sells, but focus on making the future phone. Truly a phone for the entire world…”
photo credits: wired.com; weburbanist,com