April 11, 2014

project ara: will I ever give up my iPhone?

We're taking a break from the music reviews this week, but I did listen to the free single (and didn't like it very much). Instead we're talking about smartphones.

The iPhone continues to dominate the smartphone market. Though phones playing host to the Android OS are spreading like wildfire, the cheapened iPhone 5C dampened that surge. Apple led the charge and Microsoft and Google scrambled to play catch-up, but Apple's first-adopter advantage carries on seven years after the release of the first gen iPhone.

I love my iPhone 5S, specifically how well-integrated it is with all things "Apple". It syncs all my contacts, messages, email, music, photos, etc. to and from my laptop like a champion, and creates a bond between them that Apple aficionados are accustomed to. It's a clever function, because it creates a dependency on the iPhone's natural connectivity. To switch to another phone - no matter how fantastic it may be or what features it offers - would be a mistake if it doesn't have the interconnectivity of my iPhone.

I once had a professor ask me what it would take to give up my iPhone. After really considering it, I told him there wasn't any other product that could get me to give it up. But I think that I may have finally found something to derail my Apple allegiance. Watch the first minute of this CNET video to get acquainted with Project Ara.

The end of that minute of video mentions Phonebloks. I have been following the Phonebloks project since its social media campaign last year. It was very exciting to hear about their speedy partnership with Motorola and Google for the rest of Project Ara's development. It is more exciting to hear that the first iteration of Project Ara is expected in early 2015.

If Project Ara does launch when anticipated, it would mark a three year whirlwind development leading to the world's first modular smartphone. Additionally, the skeletal module frame is expected to cost just $50. CNET outlined some of the amazing possibilities of a modular smartphone. Break your screen? Buy a new one, and keep the rest of your modules. Going camping with no cell reception? Swap out the cellular module for a second battery pack. Processor just not cutting it anymore? Upgrade to the new Processor 5S without having to buy a whole new product.

Google is encouraging developers to begin work on modules now, and have released their official Module Develops Kit (MDK). This aims to produce a brand new kind of mobile product marketplace. Modules could range from battery modules by Duracell to thermal imaging cameras by Nikon.

What this means is the creation of a smartphone that is, seemingly, endlessly variable and customizable, and here's why that's important: my bigest gripe with Apple is the uniformity of it all. As I mentioned, yes, all of their products work well together, but in order to achieve that, they must all be perfectly to Apple's specifications. In creating the iPhone 5C, Apple allowed a cheaper alternative to the new generation of iPhone. That's a big step for Apple, but it's not big enough. They are stuck in a now-outdated idea that the entire market should love the same product.

The first iPhone was intuitive, and introduced the smartphone to the world in a major way. It didn't need to be customizable because the world was just learning how to use it for the first time. But now when two-thirds of the world owns a cellphone and most of the Western world owns smartphones, we aren't afraid of the technology anymore - we love it. Apple should take off the kid gloves and hit us with all the innovation they have to offer, but they refuse to trust their consumers with the freedom of customization.

Project Ara is doing that two-fold. Not only will it run the more versatile Android OS, it allows you to exchange hardware as you see fit, allowing consumers to alter the very function of their own smartphones, and truly, that excites me. Every generation of iPhone touts a better camera and superior megapixel resolutions, but I'm not big on selfies and don't want to pay for a great smartphone camera. That money would be better spent on an improved battery or an additional speaker for better sound. Or, if you're not in the market for an expensive phone, that money doesn't have to be spent at all. Buy the cheapest of every module and own an affordable, easily reparable smartphone. Project Ara has the potential to be as price competitive as the 5C currently is.

The potential for Project Ara is astounding. I expect it will be "the next big thing." As our smartphones become more and more like computers, they should be customized like computers. Were Project Ara available for purchase today, I would drop my iPhone like a hot potato. For this techie, customization beats connectivity every time.

But what do you think? Would you buy Project Ara? Can you see it reducing Apple's share of the market? Let me know in the comments.

Story by Extreme Tech
Story by The Verge

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