One of the best aspects of owning a desktop PC is that it's upgradeable: when one part becomes out of date, it's easier and cheaper to swap it out with something new, as opposed to purchasing a whole new system. Motorola is hoping to take this pricinple and apply it to smartphones with 'Project Ara', a free, open and modular mobile hardware platform.
In Motorola's words, the company wants to "do for hardware what the Android platform has done for software", through fostering a third-party hardware development ecosystem, increasing the pace of innovation and lowering the barriers of entry for smartphone hardware production.
Project Ara itself consists of a base hardware unit called the "endoskeleton", which has different slots that modules fit in to. Modules can be anything from the device's system-on-a-chip or camera, to a display, battery, keyboard or even new sensors like a pulse oximiter. Images Motorola has provided show a basic frame with rectangular slots for modules, which connect to one another through contacts.
To bring the project to frution, Motorola is teaming up with a company called Phonebloks, who have a similar idea. Enthusiasts who are interested in Ara can sign up to become Scouts, to give feedback that will help shape the project; when it launches, the hundred most active Scouts will receive an Ara device for free.
Motorola are planning to release a Module Developer's Kit (MDK) this winter, with even more to come in the months to follow. If the company can properly execute the vision for Project Ara, we could be seeing phones that only require upgrading, rather than replacing, in just a few year's time.