At the end of October, Motorola made a surprising announcement: it was working on an open-source initiative called Project Ara that would allow for the creation of modular, customizable smartphone hardware. It's an ambitious and seemingly unlikely project, but Motorola CEO Dennis Woodside says it's all part of a plan to make consumers more involved with building their smartphones. "Moto Maker was the beginning of a much more exciting and longer-term story," Woodside says in an interview with YouTube personality Marques Brownlee. "Ara is much further out, but you can see how those two things tie together, and how as we introduce new materials into Moto Maker we're gonna pursue that theme across our product line going forward."
"The line between Ara and ... Moto Maker might converge."
Though Project Ara may be some ways off, Motorola phones could get even more customizable before then. Woodside says that we'll start to see more materials in Moto Maker down the road — not just wood (which is still "coming soon"), but materials that have different properties too. Of course, the ultimate goal is to allow consumers to be able to continually customize hardware over the life of their smartphone by setting up standardized components through Project Ara.
"That's where the line between Ara and what we're doing with Moto Maker might converge," Woodside tells Brownlee. "But that might take some time." Woodside says that there's already a prototype built for Project Ara, but he won't suggest what the timeline is for bringing it to market. "Will we have a product in the next 12 months? It's hard to say."
One of the concerns with a setup like Project Ara is that every customizable hardware piece would have to mount on to a permanent, long-lasting skeleton, but if that skeleton grew outdated as quickly as modern smartphones do, it would make upgradable phones a lot less appealing. When asked about how that would work, Woodside said he wasn't sure. "It's gonna be interesting. You can imagine ... there could be new releases each year that allow even more functionality to be changed and modified," Woodside tells Brownlee. "We're gonna have to see where it goes."
Moto G was meant to be as good as the iPhone 5 for one-third the cost
Woodside also touched on the Moto G during the interview, saying that the device came out of a specific challenge: "How do we create a phone that's objectively as good as iPhone 5 for a third of the cost." Woodside said that technology costs have gotten low enough where that's possible. "That's what we did with Moto G," he tells Brownlee. Woodside also revealed that the phone would see an upgrade to Android 4.4 KitKat in January. He also said that Motorola was still working hard on smartwatches.
But Woodside's real interest was in smartphone customizability, something that appears to be a real, growing focus for Motorola going forward. Woodside is open about not being completely certain of what that future might look like, but for Motorola, he says, "Moto Maker is really just the start."