Google's Project Ara: a click-in/click-out modular concept phone


Looks like the modules slide in from the sides. That’s all well and good until the first time you drop it - a corner will squish and the module will get crimped into place, never to be removed.


Why hasn’t anyone tried building a modular PC this way? It seems like it would be an easier technical challenge, and it would keep a lot of e-waste out of landfills if consumers could easily swap out a processor on their home computer when it was time to upgrade instead of having to replace the whole tower.

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I’d kickstart a parachute module


someone does/did and it was expensive… the name may or may not surface in the muck in my brain.

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not is/was - will be:

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The upgrade cycle on home computers is too long for that to work. People keep their old computers until something dies. By then, standards have usually changed and you either have to look for old parts or just buy a new computer anyway.

@Tribune just pointed out Razer’s thing, but that’s destined for failure. Yes, a certain kind of gaming enthusiast upgrades parts often enough, but are they going to want to pay the premium Razer will slap on a limited selection of parts when they’re used to custom-building?

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This project, and the original phonebloks project, received a lot of (totally legitimate) criticism on reddit. The original stick-the-blocks-anywhere design was technologically impossible, which it why it was nixed. This design is feasible, but you’re going to have to accept huge tradeoffs for modularity. This phone, if produced, will be much thicker, heavier, more expensive, and have significantly shorter battery life and less durability than a contemporary unibody phone. It looks great in a render, but when folks see what they have to give up for the wow-factor of a legophone, I doubt many will actually buy one.

A more practical design would be more closely related to desktop PCs - standardized modules with standardized connectors inside a case with standardized mount points. The case/display/mainboard would have to be a single component, but the SoC, storage, camera, radio, & battery could all be swapped around with basic hand tools.


I dunno, I’d probably still be using my PowerMac G5 if I could have swapped out the processor for an Intel one. The Mac towers kept the same basic form factor and many of the same connectors for over a decade. Of course, Apple wouldn’t make nearly as much money if you could easily upgrade a 12-year-old piece of hardware to run all the latest software.

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Its basically a ‘cool’ but useless idea.

PC’s already are modular and you already can swap out pieces… for the approximately two years that is worth doing as an upgrade before you could just buy a whole new one for a better performance gain at a lower cost.

For a mobile device this equation is only worse as you care a lot more about how big the thing is, and a large portion of the cost of existing devices is explained by the need to make them small.

Notice how laptop computers are far less upgradable than desktop computers? That’s because desktop computers are allowed to be 20x the volume, mass, and power consumption.

A far better way to add ‘accessories’ to a phone is via wireless communication.


You and I can, but the vast majority of laypeople don’t feel comfortable doing so.

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The thing is, you can’t just swap out a processor. You’d definitely need a new motherboard, and probably new RAM as well.

Had you been using a PC, this would have been easy. PCs are still using variations on the ATX motherboard form factor standard from the 90s, which is still somewhat compatible with the AT standard from the 80s. If you still have one of those awesome gateway towers from the early pentium days, you could still be using it with cutting-edge components.

But apple being apple, nothing is standard if they can help it. They’s much prefer you have to buy a whole new PC every time any component gets too old.


As you say, the reason I can’t do that is because those systems weren’t designed to do that. Which is a shame.

Even so, I’ve managed to get a fair amount of mileage out of every Mac I’ve owned to date by gradually upgrading every component I could. I expect that will change now that their newer models all seem to be permanently glued together.

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The hard part is figuring out which parts are compatible. Do I need ddrII ddrIII? at what speed? How many sticks of what size are supported? Is my motherboard compatible with socket 7? Does this video card need pciE3? Am I going to need a bigger power supply?

The screws are the easy bit.

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Well, that’s a good example of why it would be a cool idea to come up with a modular system that would be easy for laypeople to upgrade. Imagine if things were standardized in such a way that you knew any component that would physically plug into a slot was known to be compatible with that device.

As a (grossly oversimplified) analogy: there are several different standards for alternating current around the world, but for the last century you could be reasonably sure that any outlet which fit the plug on your power cord would properly power your appliance.

Sure, all you have to do is keep the interfaces standard for decades, like they do with wall power.

“No one will need more than 637 kB of memory for a personal computer”


Locking modules with magnets?.. Okay, that means no digital compass module for navigation…

For modularity all I want is something that is a small basic phone (perhaps with really good voice commands and couple line display) that can be inserted into a normal sized touch screen when one wants a full smartphone experience. (also an add on slide-out qwerty for when I really want to do something productive with said smartphone)

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Whether or not apple had designed the G5 board for it, you simply can’t go from a powerPC chip to an intel chip without changing the motherboard. The sockets would certainly have been different, and there is probably a lot of underlying stuff that would need to be different. Heck, you still can’t swap between AMD and intel chips on the same board, and they’re both x86. Even if the two companies wanted to make a mutually-compatible socket, they probably couldn’t.

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The iPhone 5 circuit board is as big as 1/4 of the module bays on this modular phone, but it has all the features on that tiny board. At least four radios, a fast CPU, many gigs of storage, tilt sensors, etc. so why is this a good idea, again?