Android is famously open source, and Google's hardware arm -- Motorola Mobility, which the Internet giant acquired in 2011, ostensibly for its patents -- announced on Tuesday that it has created Project Ara, an open-source initiative for modular smartphones.
The goal of Project Ara is to "do for hardware what the Android platform has done for software."
Those who might recall Phonebloks, which recently showed off a similarly concept for modular smartphones might ask if Motorola is ripping off the smaller company. The answer is no, as the Google-owned hardware division said that it plans to work with the Phonebloks community throughout the development process.
Recently, we met Dave Hakkens, the creator of Phonebloks. Turns out we share a common vision: to develop a phone platform that is modular, open, customizable, and made for the entire world. We’ve done deep technical work. Dave created a community. The power of open requires both.
So we will be working on Project Ara in the open, engaging with the Phonebloks community throughout our development process, as well as asking questions to our Project Ara research scouts (volunteers interested in helping us learn about how people make choices).
In a few months, we will also send an invitation to developers to start creating modules for the Ara platform (to spice it up a bit, there might be prizes!). We anticipate an alpha release of the Module Developer’s Kit (MDK) sometime this winter.
According to Motorola, the modules are plugged into an "endo," the phone's endoskeleton, or basic structure. The modules "can be anything," according to the company.
Examples of such modules could include what you might expect: a new processor, more RAM, or a new hardware keyboard, but as Motorola said in its blog post, more unusual components such as a pulse oximeter.
While some are saying this is Google copying Phonebloks, a past purchase by the Internet giant might say nay to that thought. In May of 2011, before the company acquired Motorola Mobility, in fact, Google acquired a number of patents from Modu, which earlier developed a tiny modular cell phone.
Google spent $4.9 million on those patents.