Does anyone really care about modular accessories?

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© NextPit

Project Ara has generated a lot of buzz ever since it surfaced towards the end of 2013. The possibility to replace individual modules in a smartphone – be it the camera, battery or processor – would be a revolution over the increasingly unchangeable design of smartphones today. Now, in 2016, we’re already seeing 'modular' smartphones appear. But are they really modular?

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LG G5 modules are little more than glorified accessories. / © ANDROIDPIT

Faux modular

First up is the modular phone of the hour, the LG G5. The latest flagship from LG, this smartphone has a set of plug-and-play modules that the company calls the G5’s ‘Friends’. They include the LG 360 Cam, a 360-degree camera; LG Hi-Fi Plus with B&O Play, which are portable audio modules; and the LG Cam Plus, a compact camera and 1,200 mAh battery expansion. These modules connect to the G5 both physically and wirelessly.

While they look modular at first glance, these are little more than proprietary accessories. While there is a direct benefit to owning these modules alongside the G5, they’re not the same in concept or design as a truly modular smartphone like Project Ara.

These modules are little more than proprietary accessories

Then there’s the Moto Z. Tomorrow, we’re expecting the announcement of a new Motorola flagship, with the company now under Lenovo’s ownership, to replace the Moto X. The most standout feature of this new phone is a modular design very similar to that of the LG G5. Although substantiated only through leaks so far, it’s now all but confirmed. Based on renders we’ve seen, Lenovo is likely to release the Moto Z with a set of ‘modular’ accessories that connect to the phone either physically or wirelessly.

Moto Z Eveleaks
The Moto Z is expected to house module connecting pins. / © ANDROIDPIT

Project Ara prospects

Project Ara offered a lot of promise when it first appeared. The idea of having a phone chassis that allows individual modules to be switched has resonated with at least 21 million people who watched the viral Phonebloks video. Ara, initially a Motorola development that Google later inherited, is the codename for a modular smartphone that is expected to be commercially available in 2017. But with the recent news that the first Ara phone won't be as modular as first promised, it's not so clear how this device will work. 

What makes this concept so promising is that it would give more choice to users on how they want to spec their phones – with perhaps a greater emphasis on camera, battery or processor performance – by allowing them to change parts whenever they want. There is also an environmental benefit, with individual components capable of being upgraded as they age, rather than customers buying an entirely new phone simply because the processor is dated, for example. It’s just like a PC.

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Ara...this is the dream. / © Google

PCs have been modular forever

Modular computers are not a new concept. If you’ve used a desktop computer, then you’d be no stranger to modular hardware. Whether or not you’re a hardcore gamer who builds gaming rigs, or someone who adds a new hard disk or RAM module to increase storage and multitasking performance, then you’ve got an idea of how Project Ara might work.

With a rich ecosystem of original and aftermarket parts available for PCs, the possibilities for modification are vast. This adds a richness to the desktop computing experience, and one that modular design promises to do for smartphones. But with phones like the LG G5 and Moto Z providing an almost-modular experience, a shadow of what Ara could be, we have to ask – does anyone actually care about modular accessories? So far, the reaction has been far less emphatic than it was for Ara and Phonebloks.

Do you care about modular accessories? Are you still looking forward to Project Ara? Let me know in the comments. 

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  • fred bloggs Jun 10, 2016 Link to comment

    i generally have two to three phones on the go. A daily driver, must have removable battery and storage, and run current OS, I choose LG G4, I have backup android phone, that is rooted, and thirdly an IOS device, for those apps that only exist in that space. I tried fairphone (modular), but it was a bit too clunky / thick. I'd like a modular phone,with different cameras, batteries, breakout adapters to talk to RPI.

  • ljhaye Jun 9, 2016 Link to comment

    Project Ara will fail or be DOA because where does the consumer store the interchangeable components? Do you assemble your phone before you leave your home or do you carry the extra components you might need in your pocket? What happens when you lose a component? Why is google still trying to compete with its OEM partners? There's not enough money in android hardware for Google to also be an OEM. Google can afford these moon shots as they are subsidized by advertising revenue and don't need to stand on their own. Unfortunately this isn't the case with their OEM partners. Google's Apple envy is nauseating.

    • psiclone Jun 9, 2016 Link to comment

      I disagree. I think once people realize the benefit of being able to add a better camera or speakers, etc. as tech improves, without having to buy a whole other phone, then this will become more successful. It really comes down to customer education about the products and pricing. If it were I that had a modular phone, then I would likely configure it exactly how I want it and only swap out components as better ones come along. If I'm traveling, then I might be more apt to bring all the modules along, just in case I want to leave the hotel or be on the plane with a certain configuration, but wouldn't likely just carry them along with me everywhere I go. For instance, I almost never use my camera, unless I'm traveling or something like that. That leaves room for an extra battery.

  • BruinGuy Jun 9, 2016 Link to comment

    I get a new phone every year. I don't want to invest in modules.

    • psiclone Jun 9, 2016 Link to comment

      Not everyone can do that, though. Buying a $400+ phone every year isn't realistic to everyone. A modular approach could be more affordable. It might also allow someone who had a "lesser" phone than yours become more capable than the one you just bought for far less cost.

      Deactivated Account

  •   46
    Deactivated Account Jun 9, 2016 Link to comment

    I don't think truly modular phones will ever happen. The main reason is size requirement and all the parts that would be need to be interchangeable. With computers you want a better processor, well you need a new motherboard, possibly and most likely memory. Then you have the cooler to replace. That's just too many parts to be practical in a phone and it would drive up the price. The peripherals can be changed without other upgrades. That I can see happening like with the G5. Truly modular like a PC I don't think it will happen any time soon if ever.

  • Bob visser Jun 9, 2016 Link to comment

    I am still looking forward to project Ara if the manage to also make the cpu, ram and other things removable

  • Ivan C. Jun 9, 2016 Link to comment

    It will only make your phone look ugly and besides, whatever modular component it may be it will suck up a lot of power from the battery.

    • Micah Owensby Jun 9, 2016 Link to comment

      And that, my friend, is the beauty of Project Ara. If you do happen to add a component that sucks up a lot of battery, just upgrade to a better battery :)

      Unless you're talking about LG. Yea, everything about that phone is horrendous.

      • Terie Mumby Jun 21, 2016 Link to comment

        I love my LG G5. And I don't really care about the modular stuff. It's just an awesome phone. I also have a Galaxy S6. Boring! All the Samsung phones look the same. The solid magnesium G5 is unique in every way. The camera is awesome. The second camera is awesome. Some people just need to shut up. I almost bought the S7. I'm glad I bought the G5 instead.

    • Bob visser Jun 9, 2016 Link to comment

      The will probably make cases that you can put around the back to make it look better

      • Terie Mumby Jun 21, 2016 Link to comment

        Samsung makes great phones. No question. I already have a glass phone. Who cares? I put every phone in a case anyway. I actually really have grown to like the looks of the solid magnesium phone. It's great to hold. I can't wrap my head around why everyone is bashing this phone. It's got the ir. It's got fm. It's battery is removable. The second wide-angle lens is really useful. It's a great phone.

    • psiclone Jun 9, 2016 Link to comment

      It doesn't have to. Right now, what we're seeing are concepts that do look rather ugly. If one were to design the phone, such that the modules "hide" underneath the housing, then it could be a nicer design.

  • Micah Owensby Jun 9, 2016 Link to comment

    I wouldn't necessarily call the G5 modular so much as accessorial like was stated in the article. While it is absolutely clear that Project Ara's sole purpose is to enrich and diversify the Android Ecosystem, what LG and Lenovo have done with the G5 and Moto Z is nothing more than "gimmickry"... in my humble opinion. Rather than enriching the Ecosystem altogether and changing a stagnated smartphone landscape, which is what Project Ara seeks to do, LG and Lenovo are simply playing the short game and wish only to increase their sales and snatch up sumadat market share. Project Ara also gives the user more control over what they really want their device to be for its entire lifespan, not just for a few fleeting moments when you snap on your 360° camera. On a side note, though, the LG G5 was 2016's biggest disappointment... in my humble opinion. Having owned the G4 for a year, which is a truly spectacular device, the design of the G5 is robotic, dull and uninspired. Add that to a pesky software experience and gimmicks, gimmicks everywhere... well you get the idea.

    • Terie Mumby Jun 21, 2016 Link to comment

      No! I don't get the idea. The G5 is way more functional than the S7. Period. Yes! The S7 looks great. Woopdee! Anyone with half a brain will be putting any phone in a case for protection. Especially a glass one. So.. There goes the great looking phone. I'd rather have the things the S7 does not. Plus I saved $150. Not rocket science. To be honest... I would have rather gotten the 6P but couldn't.

  • Jerry's W. Jun 9, 2016 Link to comment

    I don't care about modulair phones either.
    Just another way for a Brand to make more money over something that could be build in one solid package just the way good phones are now already!

    • Micah Owensby Jun 9, 2016 Link to comment

      When Google invests it's time and money into something they don't do it for the returns. Yea, they may want to make a little money off of whatever it may be, but to Google it's more about the pursuit of that technology. To shape and perfect it. Google has a vision with Project Ara, and it isn't just dollar signs. They take in billions in ad revenue and regularly and willingly takes losses on their technology investments. Oh, but yea, LG and Motorola totally have dollar signs in their eyes and that's about it. You right

      •   46
        Deactivated Account Jun 10, 2016 Link to comment

        What economics class did you take? I want to make sure my kids avoid it. Google is about profits and how to squeeze every penny out of you they can. PERIOD

  • Jamez Avila Jun 9, 2016 Link to comment

    No, I don't care about modules. My Galaxy S7 is what I care about. Best phone on the market.

  • storm Jun 9, 2016 Link to comment

    Project Ara went off track. Sure many users don't care about upgrading cute parts of the phone. But the enthusiasts do. And enthusiasts are your best advertising and free tech support. They're worth catering to.

    Extra battery and camera modules will matter even less.

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