Today we have some good news and some bad news. You probably know the bad news : Google, reportedly, has suspended (read: killed) its Project Ara which was a modular smartphone initiative.
Not to sound too harsh but Project Ara probably deserved this. It was delayed numerous times and the project simply could not have lived up to the hype that was created by the media.
But we’re not here to talk about Project Ara. We are here to talk about why Project Ara was a disastrous idea which, fortunately, never got to the implementation stage.
Project Ara, or let’s just call it for what it was: a modular smartphone, was something no smartphone consumer would have ever wanted even though some of us desperately wanted the idea to bear fruit.
If you want to find out why Google let go of Project Ara, then you should start by asking yourself the question, what was the big sell behind Project Ara?
Simply put: it was the ability for smartphone users to upgrade or replace various components of their smartphone at their convenience, one by one.
In other words, if you wanted a new processor or just wanted to upgrade your camera, all you would do was just swap your current module out for another more expensive one.
In short, Project Ara allowed smartphone users to upgrade the individual parts of their smartphone instead of buying a whole new smartphone at the time of purchase.
So far so good, so what went wrong? Or more specifically, what was so wrong about Project Ara?
Well, there is no doubt that Project Ara sounds really tempting, we’ll give you that. The demos and the marketing videos all looked great.
But if you really think about how consumers buy and companies build smartphone today, you will certainly come to the same conclusion that Google came to: Project Ara, at the least, was a horrible idea.
Modular smartphones just don’t work with the way companies build modern smartphones. And let’s not ignore the fact that most of us, okay many of us, buy smartphones to make our lives simpler and more streamlined.
Generally, people just want to go to a store that sells smartphones and buy the one that is affordable and works out of the box.
In other words, we want the whole deal right there and then. One whole smartphone for one price.
Yes, Google killed its Project Ara and geeks around the world are probably appalled by Google’s decision.
But that doesn’t change the fact the age of upgradable smartphone’s (or upgradable anything) is well and truly over.
For example, laptops all around the world are getting thinner and lighter every year. Though that is great for portability but is an absolute nightmare for manufacturing companies and for laptop users if they want to upgrade their machine.
It might not be impossible at the moment but it is certainly getting more difficult by the year.
Add to that the fact companies like Apple, make sure that you can’t upgrade anything for their products by soldering things on them.
It should become clear to you now that you don’t really have a choice. Electronic consumers will just have to come to grips with the reality that projects such as Project Ara will never likely happen in the future.
We’ll give you points for thinking that Project Ara sounded great in theory. Who doesn’t want to be able to upgrade their smartphone, or any gadget for that matter, with just one component and not have to buy a new smartphone every other year.
Except that, it would cause a lot of problems. We’ll get to those in a bit but for the moment we want you to put your morality on the side for a bit.
And thank God that you live in an era where humans live in a society of disposable gadgets. Yes, the scenario does take its toll on our planet but no one can change that.
The fact is, you have to use your smartphone for a few years and then either throw it away (preferably recycle it) or give it to someone who either doesn’t have a smartphone or has a worse one.
There is no third option.
The primary problem with having a modular smartphone is the one that we mentioned at the beginning: changing your smartphone’s components one by one (or piece by piece if you will) is just a massive task in itself and nobody has the time nor the energy to do that on a regular basis.
Imagine if Project Ara had not been canceled and Google started to sell its modular smartphone through retail stores. What would the situation look like?
Smartphone users or would-be smartphone users would have had to go to shops and buy a starter smartphone.
After that, the smartphone users would have been forced (since they had only bought the starter smartphone) to buy other components such as the camera, the processor, and the memory upgrades.
And by the time the smartphone users had completed their smartphones, it would have become clear to them that they were better off buying just the single, whole, smartphone at the beginning.
Not to mention that a single, whole, smartphone would have probably been more powerful, more secure and more pleasurable in its design.
Additionally, the normal smartphone (and not the modular smartphone) would have cost way less to the smartphone users (or would-be smartphone users) when compared to the total cost of all the individual components combined in the case of the modular smartphone.
Simply put: a new smartphone will always cost less and be more powerful than a modular smartphone.
And let’s not forget that fact that almost every company that has attempted to “revolutionize” the smartphone industry by introducing modular smartphones has failed. You only need to look at Phonebloks as a perfect example of a product idea that ended in utter disaster.
How about a more recent example of LG G5?
The LG G5 received a lot of media hype for having a “magic slot” that enabled smartphone users to add extra modules and other accessories to the smartphone. Needless to say, it was such a bright idea.
The Moto Z? A smartphone that has a similar slot for extra accessories at the back. Now, we don’t want to jump to any premature conclusions here and will say that the Moto Z, unlike the LG G5, isn’t a totally flop smartphone. Yet.
But what we will mention, though, is that LG G5 had such disappointing sale numbers that LG had to lay off some of the company’s executives. It even restructured the company’s mobile division.
The Moto Z may well turn out to be a reasonably successful smartphone but one thing is for sure: it won’t be because of that horrendous extra slot at the back.
But Moto Z and LG G5 aren’t even close to Project Ara as far as being a modular smartphone is concerned.
Project Ara relies on swappable components for all of its functions including the primary ones. The Moto Z and LG G5 only let you add extra accessories, not the main components such as a processor or a camera.
And it’s not only the smartphone industry where the concept of modular gadgets has not been able to bear fruit. Modular or upgradable concepts have failed in other industries too.
Samsung had quite a promising idea of providing Evolution Kits for the company’s Smart TVs. The proposal was that consumers would be able to buy an expensive TV set and then spend a little extra money to upgrade the Smart TV’s components such as its processor and software.
The Smart TV had a module slot at the back.
As mentioned before, the concept of modular electronics only sounds exhilarating in theory, not in practice.
The quality of being modular meant that only certain Smart TVs could be upgraded. As expected, consumers didn’t fall for the gimmick and Samsung had to discontinue the Evolution Kits in 2016.
Simple: Nobody wanted to buy a TV set that wasn’t complete from the outset.
By now, it should become clear to anyone that consumers want to save time by going to a store and buying a product that is complete. In other words, a product that has everything in it from the start.
Even a technology giant such as Apple has only got three basic iPhones in the company’s vast lineup of iPhone variations.
The only significant difference between the three basic iPhones is their storage capacity and screen size.
If you break your iPhone’s screen, you can easily get it repaired or replaced simply because there are so many of them. In fact, it wouldn’t even cost you that much if you did decide to get your iPhone’s screen fixed.
Simple, clear and fast. You can’t beat these three qualities in any gadget.
Consumers don’t want to spend time thinking about buying a smartphone first and then all its other primary components. They don’t want to make the extra effort of buying a camera module and then a sound module along with a processor module and a memory module.
They want the smartphone to come with a great camera and a great processor from the start when they actually buy the smartphone from a shop.
Needless to say, Project Ara was never going to take off despite all of Google’s efforts. The $50 smartphone, which started off as a realistic goal, ended up being a pipe dream.
Project Ara could not deliver a low-cost smartphone that could sell well in emerging markets. As a result, Google terminated the project.
And guess what? No one’s complaining because most consumers know that the logistics of how shop owners and manufacturing companies would have maintained a sufficient stock of all the components at any given time was not practical.
Moreover, what would have happened when the time came for platform updates? That’s right. A literal nightmare.
We should all be glad that Project Ara got nipped in the bud and the status quo got to continue its march towards producing better, whole, smartphones for consumers in the future as well.