Google Project Ara: Does Anyone Want or Need Modular Phones?

On its surface, ’s seems pretty interesting: an integrated smart phone frame supporting modular components that aims to make handsets simpler and cheaper to make and easier for customers to choose, customize, fix and upgrade. What’s not to like? is certainly behind the idea, as its self-congratulatory announcements and blog postings attest. Plus, the rash of largely positive media stories on the effort suggests that the company’s PR organization doesn’t plan to make the same missteps with Project Ara that it did with .

But while there may be dumber ideas than Project Ara in the tech industry, it’s hard to think of one offhand. Why? Because it is largely a visionary engineering strategy that’s been tactically retrofitted to appear beneficial to consumers. That’s not terribly unusual in the IT industry, but Google goes a step further—claiming to have solved with technology problems that aren’t particularly technical so much as they are cultural. As a result, the biggest challenge Project Ara faces is that it asks smart phone manufacturers to discard decades of competitive positioning and customers to abandon years of personal preferences. All for the sake of Google-determined and defined manufacturing efficiencies. In what world will that idea fly?

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NOTE: This column was originally published in the .

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