2013-10-29 15_10_12-Phonebloks - The next step - YouTube

As we're all still trying to come to grips with Motorola's newly revealed modular phone platform known as Project Ara, the folks at Phonebloks aren't missing a beat. They've uploaded a new video that explains a bit more about how they teamed up with Motorola. Also, there's a quick peek at Project Ara.

When Phonebloks started talking to companies about how to make the concept real, the Phonebloks guys found Moto was particularly interested. Suspiciously interested, actually. That is, of course, because project Ara had been in development for a year at that point. The Phonebloks guys went out to take a closer look, and apparently were impressed with the open approach Motorola is taking with Ara. About halfway through the video there is a sequence that shows an Ara prototype being assembled. The components slot in easily and lock into place – it all looks very slick.

2013-10-29 15_09_39-Phonebloks - The next step - YouTube

It sounds like Phonebloks is going to be acting as a conduit for popular feedback about the project as it takes shape. That fits with Motorola's statements in the Ara announcement about leveraging the Phonebloks community. The two entities are going to be working together to make a modular phone happen, but Phonebloks intends to remain independent. Perhaps Phonebloks is going to work with developers or promote the Ara platform. There's a bit more info at the newly revamped Phonebloks website, but we won't know what's up until Ara is a real thing.


Ryan Whitwam
Ryan is a tech/science writer, skeptic, lover of all things electronic, and Android fan. In his spare time he reads golden-age sci-fi and sleeps, but rarely at the same time. His wife tolerates him as few would.

He's the author of a sci-fi novel called The Crooked City, which is available on Amazon and Google Play.

  • Jared

    I can honestly say that I am interested and excited about this. Are there still questions that need answering? Absolutely. But this is a cool project that could change the mobile market!

  • abeso

    Shut up and take my money!

  • Nathan

    It almost seems like a deliberate publicity stunt. First make everyone want a modular phone, then announce you are making one. I don't think it is a trick, but it could have been.

    • Bryan Bonds

      I think its more likely Phonebloks was a legitimate concept and Motorola is "partnering" with them simply to not look like they completely ripped off their concept, even if they started development far before.

      • Justin W

        I think Phonebloks has a lot more support than Moto does at this point (in that Phonebloks revealed their ideas to the world), and Moto wants to get the hype for this device up quickly to help with suggestions and such, so they are partnering with Phonebloks to do so.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lucyparanormal Daniel Tiberius

    This will make it easier for me to have a phone with massive quantities of internal memory, like over 100GB, like I've wanted since I've gotten into smartphones. Can't wait to design my own!

  • worldclassflame

    Callate y toma mi Dinero!

    • Alan Shearer

      OK, necesita mi direccion? :P jaja.

      • worldclassflame


        • Alan Shearer

          INGLES!!!??? TRAIDOR!!!!!!!

          • Franco Rossel

            Caballeros, calma por favor.

  • AkhilSood

    Finally some one out there is doing the right kind of thinking rather than just improving on the same old SOC's that pretty much run the same for 90% of the people no matter what.

  • Unknown182

    A company that listens to it's customers! Motorola just became my favorite company, tied with Google.

    • Jadephyre

      Not to be a naysayer or something, but that remains to be seen. First they have to come through with it before I believe that they listen to costumers, as they have a really lousy track-record with that, even worse than all the other tech giants out there.
      But, that being said, i'm hopeful.

      • Unknown182

        You make a good point. Saying is different then doing. *crossing fingers*

    • Nicholas Chin

      Here's some news that will rock your world: Google owns Motorola Mobility.


  • hyperbolic

    I am throwing money at the screen but nothing happens!

  • mlj11

    What's suspicious is that the phone's screen in the video is already on even before it's slid into the modular casing, which would've presumably housed the battery needed to run the screen in the first place :p

    Anyway, this should run Android... right?

    • Chris Jutting

      I'm fairly certain that the one in the video is a nonworking prototype to demonstrate the modular nature of the device.

      • mlj11

        Yes... perhaps the smiley face at the end of my first sentence wasn't obvious enough...

      • Alan Shearer

        Could have just been a screen with a sticker on it to give and idea, like the above said. It looks like it is on, but no animations or movement, so could be nothing more than a sticker or dummy screen.

    • Jonnyw2k

      It's working colour e-ink for the masses! But as its modular you can choose between E-Ink, OLED. IPS, LCD, TFT, CRT and hopefully refreshable Braille display.

      • GigiAUT

        Don't forget Mirasol....

  • http://turbofool.com Jarrett Lennon Kaufman

    The honest version:

    We came up with an idea that was essentially impossible the way we designed it, we met with a bunch of companies who basically told us as much, and then Motorola said, "hey, we've actually been working on something similar to this already, except in a way that doesn't ignore electrical engineering and computer science limitations and is actually feasible, 'though slightly less ambitious." We nearly dropped a load realizing we were about to go up against one of the big boys who could crush us under their thumbs in marketing power, experience, and an actual understanding of how electronics work, so instead made an agreement for them to piggy-back off the popularity we'd gained on the Internet with people as clueless about electrical engineering as we were, in exchange for them not driving us out of existence, all while letting them avoid the bad PR of doing exactly that. Which they would have. Because they were actually capable of making this happen.

    Anyway, either way, I'm excited. I hated the Phonebloks concept because it was a bunch of excitement over nothing. This is much, much better, since it may actually happen.

    • Ark

      Probably accurate, if exceedingly cynical.

      • http://turbofool.com Jarrett Lennon Kaufman

        I'll take it.

    • Mike Reid

      I'm excited too, though still cautious/skeptical.

      I'm sure MANY people have thought about such a concept Lego-type phone/everything device over the decades. My first serious but skeptical thoughts were in 2001, noting that it seemed wasteful to buy a digital video/still camera (at 2001 prices) over and over again for many different devices. But 12 years have made me even more skeptical about the practical realities.

      This holds promise, but without specific guarantees; I look forward to seeing what happens.

      Many/most engineers started with Lego or Mechano (my fave) when young and want to see similar in the real, practical world.

      Linux is the Lego of Operating Systems.

      Android AOSP is the Lego of Mobile Operating Systems.

      Google, then MIT App Inventor is at least one of the Lego's of Android app development.

      Arduino shields and similar are Lego for micro-controller hardware.

      I look forward to Lego like pieces for phones, tablets, "laptops" and other devices.

      I guess I'll sign up for the special missions of an "Ara Scout" and hope to not be disappointed: http://www.dscout.com/ara#

      • http://turbofool.com Jarrett Lennon Kaufman

        Yeah, part of my original skepticism was the fact that I've seen this before. Many times. I'm pretty sure I've seen the concept with phones before, and I KNOW I've seen it with other electronics, and especially computers, where you could just stack components together in any order you wanted. None ever happened because they ignored basic fundamentals of how the technology works.

        The ONLY reasons I'm more excited here than I was at Phonebloks are:

        1. Motorola. I have no reason to believe Motorola would go this far if it wasn't possible. They know this tech almost literally better than anyone else. If they say they can do it, I think they can.

        2. The little bit they've shown off already looks a lot more realistic. Pressure-pad connectors coupled with a slide-in-and-lock modular system is a ton more reliable, solid, and plausible. Heck, CPUs use essentially the same type of connections now, as do all our PC components. Also, unlike Phonebloks, they're clearly not trying to stick with the implausible concept that you can plug any component in anywhere you want. They have different sizes and shapes of slots with different contact layouts. That dramatically decreases potential combinations, but also dramatically decreases the need for redundancy in connections, and increases optimization.

        I'll still hold out for more proof it'll all come together. I'm still suspicious that energy efficiency and latency will suffer from this system, for one. And I'm also unconvinced about how many components will REALLY be swappable versus what has to be hard-wired into the endo (such as the CPU). I get the nagging feeling the CPU and RAM will need to be hard-wired, at which point I think the dream of saving money by upgrading individual components disappears, and this instead just becomes a better Moto X where you can customize all the specs when you buy it, and maybe swap in a better camera or battery or more storage later on. But the parts that you REALLY want to upgrade after a year or two won't make the cut. At which point, if it's anything like a PC, the only way to make everything as fast it should be is that the new generation of endo (and CPU and memory) will require new-gen modular components, and we're back at square one.

        But I'll be hopeful for once in this chain and wait and see. If ALL this is a phone I can customize the heck out of when I buy it, I'll still count it as a win.

        • david

          Possibly, but already nice as it is. Someone must start at some point. The possibility to customize the internal memory and battery seems like a great selling point.

    • GigiAUT


    • KONG!

      maybe phonebloks conceptors at motorola for research, not building actual phone for commercial yet. it need to be sure that the tech and/or concept is not premature

  • Bryan Bonds

    That fact there is a real working demo of the phone and not just CGI stills, makes me really excited!

    • Nick

      Working demo? Hardly. They have what is called a mockup. Nothing actually works. It is just a physical representation of what it could look like.
      I still don't see how this would work with device drivers, hardware optimizations, etc...

      • opica

        Did you forget what a PC is?

        • bakedpatato

          x86 computers have a well defined HAL and therefore don't rely on board support packages from SoC manufacturers to update OSes, well defined interfaces between the peripherals (such as PCI-E/SATA), and Linux and Windows have well defined/extendable driver APIs. No ARM SoC has the amount of flexibility that an x86 platform has in those terms, and I don't think Google/Motorola can create all those standards from scratch and have them be popular.

  • Itchy_Robot

    Sounds like a wonderful idea. I am sure Apple, Samsung, et al are not to happy about it though =)

    • Bryan Bonds

      Samsung is, free R&D done by Motorola!

    • hellerox

      And Samsung manufactures Ram, SoCs, SSDs, Screens, I think that if this works they could easily join with several "modules" for your phones.

      • EH101

        Yup, Motorola already said something about using having a module API set etc, so that sounds like any company could make modules for the device. Samsung could jump all over this.

        • Justin W


          They need to be onboard with this idea for it to fully saturate the market when it's announced next year and released the following year (announced next year based on the announcement made earlier, released is just a rough guestimate).

          • EH101

            Indeed, either Samsung or a collection of OEMs need to be on board for this to take off.

            Part of me fears potential players will shy away because they won't want to be tied into Motorola's designs and/or potential licensing system. I imagine if Moto requires some royalty for using this design (that I assume is patented), Samsung would be keen on just developing their own. That would end in lots of headaches for potential users, probably.

  • Franco Rossel

    Only problem, if you drop that thing...
    At least with old phones only the battery was sent flyng.

    • FunkyMonkey

      better superglue that storage fast, in case it flies off with naked selfies

    • Matthew Fry

      I always figured the phonesplode on drop was designed to help save the components. The initial hit causes the three pieces (phone, back, battery) to absorb the force.

      Anyway, no biggie. You put security on insert that requires a password or some internal id match and no naked selfies (@disqus_hEJaFVCa73:disqus).

    • Mike Reid

      They used to say that about "cheap Japanese" printers using too much plastic and too little metal back in the 1980's.

      Then a story came out about one that was dropped and flew into hundreds of pieces. And they put every piece back together and got it working again. LOL.

  • David Margolin

    +1 to phonbloks for including mkbhd in their video...

    • Dave Tsu.

      lol, who cares about mkbhd? He didn't even think the project was probable.

      • Alex

        Like everyone else who saw phonebloks concepts...

  • Unknown182

    So now that I am calmer; how are they going to standardized part sizes? In 5 years I'd prefer not having to dig through 20 different models of the same processor that are only a millimeter different.

    • someone755

      It's supposed to be a standard size, no matter what CPU it holds.
      Or so it would seem.

      • Justin W

        Yeah - I'm guessing the CPU will be X size, while the storage would be Y size, camera/speaker module would be Z size, with a couple of randomly sized pieces to fill in the empty slots. I'm pretty sure they will be a standard size though (each individual piece anyway), otherwise it would defeat the purpose of the project.

        • http://mwinter.in/ Yan Gabriel Minário

          Or maybe a PCIe based connection and various standard sizes, so anything can be anywhere.

          • My1

            that would be nice coz on the long shot some people dont need some parts or when customizing on the go, like ditching the cam and Wireless (3G Bluetooth and whetnot) and inserting another battery, and Storage for long time video watching when you need to kill time in the train...

          • someone755

            And maybe a 5kW PSU on the battery module? And a GTX Titan3 on PCIe 4.0 x32 instead of the CPU?

          • http://mwinter.in/ Yan Gabriel Minário

            lol, I think I wasn't clear enough. With based I mean like.
            But I'm 70% sure there will be size standards for screen sizes and nothing will be able to be anywhere, there will be the battery place, the processor place, etc.

          • someone755

            Yeah, I know what you meant. I love sarcasm a bit too much, as it would seem :I
            But maybe there'd be something cool. The CPU and battery wouldn't be interchangeable, but the camera, memory and speaker modules could be. Like, for instance, I've never used my phone's speaker, so maybe I'd want another storage module. Or another microUSB port. That would be kewl.
            And my idea is that you buy a base (or skeleton) with the screen already attached. The bigger the base, the bigger the screen (the screen only changes if you buy a new base).

          • http://mwinter.in/ Yan Gabriel Minário

            I still want to replace my screen though.
            Maybe my sarcasm-o-meter is broken.

          • someone755

            Oh, mine definitely is. :H

            Imo, buying a new base will probably cost you a new Nexus phone, if it turns out to be as I said above....

        • someone755

          Or maybe the two or three main components would be X size, while the other ones would be Y, so if for instance you don't want a camera, you can get a 1394 port, for example.

  • Bob G

    Reminds me of what Xiaomi is already doing with their phones, but on a weekly basis.

  • RaptorOO7

    Its a great concept and perhaps in time it could be possible but I don't see it going anywhere which is sad.

  • Leonard Krum

    +Darling, Did you see my 21mpx Module?
    - Yes.. i take it, i need for my weekend, so take my 8mpx module for this both days ooookay? ♥

  • Ursula Wins

    The Funny, And Sadly Very Expensive Part (no Pun Intended) About This Is That Is Basically is A Freemium Concept.

    • My1

      why is it a freemium concept? no part of it is free, neither endo nor the bloks.
      it's rather the ultimate project having a customized phone.
      and when they're good enough, you can even customize it on the go, like when having to kill time in the train and wathing videos over a long time I kill the cam and insert a new battery or alike...

      • Ursula Wins

        a freemium concept is based on in app purchases rather on free to play

        • My1

          ok but anyway freemium means that you somehow must use that additional purchase, but I'd rather call ara a modular concept. instead of buying a whole new phone with features you dont like, you can select your components and probably save a lot when Upgrading...

  • Asphyx

    I wonder if it this Lego Phone will integrate well with my Lego Star Wars set?
    Then I can build a Millenium Falcon that has Data and Voice onboard!