When Google sold off Motorola to Lenovo, they retained one secret division at Motorola called the Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) group that is headed by Regina Dugan, the former director of the U.S. Defense Department's fabled Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) which developed the Internet, satellite navigation and stealth fighters. We covered Regina Dugan in a report regarding Motorola's electric Skin Tattoo project. Google's ATAP group introduced a new project back in October 2013 called Project Ara. It's an initiative that aims to develop a free, open hardware platform for creating highly modular smartphones. In theory the platform was to include a structural frame that holds smartphone modules of the owner's choice, such as a display, keyboard, extra battery or larger camera. It has the potential of revolutionizing the smartphone as we know it. The project has undergone various failures including the fact that the magnetized modules were found to be falling off the frame.
Back in early 2014 Patently Apple initially covered Project Ara in a detailed report titled "Could Project Ara's Smartphone by Google be a Game Changer?" While the project appeared to have slipped into the night a surprising development crashed on the world stage at the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona last night. LG introduced their next-gen smartphone called the G5 that introduces a new family of smartphone modular add-ons. The question remaining: Is this a Project Tango spin-off or did LG simply run with the idea Google first developed to get ahead of the Android OEM pack. I think it could be the latter.
On Sunday, LG's mobile chief, Cho Juno, stated during their official debut of the G5 at World Mobile Congress in Barcelona that "With the new phone, LG will create its own fandom culture among users." The G5 has an accessory slot at the bottom, which allows users to swap in different modules.
The first module is a camera module called the 'LG Cam Plus' and includes a 1,200mAh battery and buttons for diverse camera functions such as zoom, flash and shutter release.
Together with the phone's own battery, the total battery capacity increases to 4,000mAh. The module also features the analogue leather grip of DSLR cameras for better user experience, the company said.
A second module is called the 'LG Hi-Fi Plus', a digital to analog converter that offers the best sound quality among smartphones. It is a partnership with Sweden's luxury audio maker Bang & Olufsen.
The phone comes with a 5.3-inch quantum high definition display. It has also been refashioned with metal and curved body. Four colors – silver, titan, gold and pink – are available.
LG, which has focused on improving camera functions on its flagship phones, has added a 135-degree wide angle lens this time, along with an upgraded expert mode and user interface.
On Sunday, the company also unveiled eight accessories for the G5, including a virtual reality headset and a 360-degree camera that can work with the phone and the accessory modules.
It's unknown at this time what modules could be next for their new smartphone or if they'll open up the concept to third party developers. If successful, the modular smartphone concept could be a future trend for everyone in the sector. However, without standardization of the parts, it could be an idea that short lived. This is where Google's Project Ara still holds more promise.
For now, LG has the jump on everyone and we'll just have wait and see it they could win any traction with this concept as a single supplier.