Google develops modular phone

By Lorrin Windahl.

I wrote a while ago about the current trend of design for obsolescence. This is the design of products that are specifically designed to fail or become obsolete after a short period of time. A great example of this are mobile phones. Often people ‘update’ their mobile phones when the new model comes out. Even though their current phone still works, it just doesn’t have the latest features. Well, the good news is that Google are trying to change this with the development of a new modular phone.

Image courtesy of Google.

The Ara modular system allows for customisation of features. Photo by Norman Chan/

The new phone, known as Ara, addresses the consumer’s need to have the latest technology in their phone. Instead of replacing the whole phone however, the consumer will only have to buy a new feature module in order to update their old one. And it also allows consumers to purchase only features that they want rather than having to buy a set package (the only option currently available) that has many features that are never used.

Image courtesy of Google.

Image courtesy of Google.

Yes, this new phone allows consumers to customise their phones, but I think the biggest plus is for the environment. Although there are phone recycling schemes already in place (many of which are unregulated, conducted in developing countries and cause health serious issues), a lot of phones still end up in landfill. And if the number of phones disposed of reduces then this is definitely a positive.

The modules could be 3D printed. Image courtesy of Google.

The modular system enables the phone to be different sizes and shapes. Image courtesy of Google.

And according to 3D Print, Google are also looking at having the modules manufactured using 3D printers, in order to meet the expected huge volumes. It’s been predicted that this number will be in the billions so 3D Systems are already looking into new printing methods to achieve this.

I’m currently undecided if this is a more sustainable way to manufacture though, what do you think?

2 Comments on “Google develops modular phone

  1. I have concerns that this product will not be appealing as people LOVE NEW PHONES. I look forward to my upgrades. I don’t want to use the same old phone for ever. Good in principle, but lets face it…new phones are exciting.


    • Thanks for your comment. You make a good point. It will need a shift in current thinking. But I think the key to the success of this concept is the customisation angle. KeepCup is a great example of this. They needed to change consumer’s takeaway coffee experience by getting them to take their own cup. I think the personalisation option on their cups has been the key to their success. Hopefully people who have spent the time personalising their phones will also want to keep them rather than buy a new one.


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