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Google Demos Modular Phone That (Almost) Actually Works

samzenpus posted about a month ago | from the if-youd-like-to-make-a-call-please-wait dept.

Google 126

An anonymous reader writes Google's Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) group demonstrated Tango, a tablet with 3D cameras similar to Microsoft's Kinect and a version of the Ara phone that could almost boot to the Android home screen (it froze during the demo) at Google I/O today. Project Ara will give $100,000 to anyone who can create an Ara module that does something current smartphones can't. From the article: "Ara moved from concept render to physical mockup in about six months, and onstage today Google demonstrated a version of the phone that could just about boot to the Android home screen. In the demo above, the phone displayed a partial boot screen before freezing. The full boot time (had the demo worked as intended) would be about a minute, which would be a long time for a shipping phone but is reasonably impressive for such an early prototype. Software is the other thing that Ara's developers need to figure out. Current Android builds ship with support for the hardware the phone runs, but they don't include a whole bunch of extraneous drivers for other modems or Wi-Fi modules or cameras or SoCs. Current phone hardware doesn't change, so Android doesn't typically need to worry about this kind of thing."

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Grappling hook module! (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47329335)

Well I've never seen any phone with a built in grappling hook before...

Re:Grappling hook module! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47330771)

+1 new plot device for matthew reilly.

The cable (1)

tepples (727027) | about a month ago | (#47331591)

Where would it store the cable behind the hook?

Re:The cable (1)

ganjadude (952775) | about a month ago | (#47331785)

nanowire

Re:The cable (4, Funny)

OakDragon (885217) | about a month ago | (#47332119)

Advanced compression algorithms.

hot dog grilling attachment (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47329411)

Something I can put one sausage in and a motor drives it thru a heated ring.

I mean that makes as much sense as a modular phone.

Re:hot dog grilling attachment (5, Funny)

istartedi (132515) | about a month ago | (#47330209)

Great. I'll probably have nightmares tonight about it malfunctioning in my pocket.

I'm going to make some comment (3, Funny)

Ukab the Great (87152) | about a month ago | (#47329425)

about sex toys, and then I will see child posts with links that made me wish I never did.

maybe not sex toys (3, Interesting)

OutOnARock (935713) | about a month ago | (#47329759)

How about something that can read an IR sensor such that:

1. approach woman at bar, place phone on bar next to drink

2. phone takes baseline body temps of said woman

3. chat with woman for 5 minutes

4. phone takes update body temps to see where the blood is flowing

5. pick up phone and get 1 to 10 scale on how "excited" the woman was with me



could work on men too just have to look for different "hot spots"

Re:maybe not sex toys (1)

jd2112 (1535857) | about a month ago | (#47330301)

How about something that can read an IR sensor such that: 1. approach woman at bar, place phone on bar next to drink 2. phone takes baseline body temps of said woman 3. chat with woman for 5 minutes 4. phone takes update body temps to see where the blood is flowing 5. pick up phone and get 1 to 10 scale on how "excited" the woman was with me could work on men too just have to look for different "hot spots"

Easy, when started just print "1".

Re: maybe not sex toys (2)

Tablizer (95088) | about a month ago | (#47330577)

Better get non-geeks to test it. Otherwise they'll turn grey trying to figure out why it's always zero.

Re: maybe not sex toys (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47330649)

Better get non-geeks to test it. Otherwise they'll turn grey trying to figure out why it's always zero.

Nah, what would happen is after the geeks are finished developing it, testing it, and calibrating it by themselves, then release it to the general market they will be confused by angry customers posting reviews "WTF DO I ALWAYS GET IntegerOverflowException ON THE ATTRACTION RATINGS?!"

Re:maybe not sex toys (1)

Neil Boekend (1854906) | about a month ago | (#47331757)

You might get some erroneous readings from frustration and anger.
I'd expect a simple course on body language to be more effective for most users.

Horseshoes, hand grenades, (1)

rmdingler (1955220) | about a month ago | (#47329453)

and Tango.

Load the drivers (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47329605)

... directly from the module and include some form of eprom or flash to store updates it might receive OTA

Re:Load the drivers (1)

pkinetics (549289) | about a month ago | (#47329705)

Virus?

Re:Load the drivers (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47331641)

If you have a virus in the actual module we don't call those viruses, we call them back doors. And quite frankly if you are worried about viruses in your drivers go write your own drivers and compilers, because you will always be vulnerable otherwise.

Re:Load the drivers (1)

Kielistic (1273232) | about a month ago | (#47331985)

No we really don't. Infecting another device from standard contact is pretty much exactly what we call a virus. This is like auto-running USB sticks on Windows XP.

Re:Load the drivers (2)

smart_ass (322852) | about a month ago | (#47330385)

maybe ok for baseline drivers.
But what if I plug in a three year old module to my new phone.
It wants to load old drivers incompatible with current OS revision.

Better to load a device ID of some sort and let the phone go get the proper drivers from a signed website

Re: Load the drivers (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47330923)

Like that three year old modules site would still be up

Re:Load the drivers (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47331613)

maybe ok for baseline drivers.

is covered as ... "directly from the module"

But what if I plug in a three year old module to my new phone.It wants to load old drivers incompatible with current OS revision.

is covered as ... "include some form of eprom or flash to store updates it might receive OTA" (over the air) so it connects to the network and updates the driver storing both the baseline driver and the current one, after all what if you want to plug it in to your 3 yr old phone afterwards.

Better to load a device ID of some sort and let the phone go get the proper drivers from a signed website

That is the idea of OTA updates ...

Isn't this very close to what I said, except my way works better?

Anyone else remember... (0, Redundant)

Thantik (1207112) | about a month ago | (#47329625)

Slashdot was _FILLED_ with comments about how these people were SO stupid, and how modular phones _couldn't_ be built. How there wasn't possibly a way...

Re:Anyone else remember... (1)

dos1 (2950945) | about a month ago | (#47329717)

But it's still (almost) true. Of course such phones *can* be built, it's just a matter of money and time tossed on it. Problem is somewhere else - how do you plan to make such phones competitive at all. How do you want to provide high performance? Battery time? Low latencies? Low price? Size that will still fit in the pocket?

Mobile devices are evolving to be more integrated, not less. Modularity requires you to give up any integration - which makes things like high performance or long battery time hard to achieve. What's important - you cannot even simply sacrifice one of it, as odds are that it won't help much with others anyway - unless you sacrifice modularity of course.

Ara is just a R&D project. Maybe it will bring some useful knowledge that will be later integrated into real devices - but I don't think it will bring the oh-my-god-so-modular phone to the market. I'm more excited about projects like Neo900 - this is how "modularity" in mobile devices should be achieved. Plus the solution with two PCBs gives hope for even more "modularity" in future, with potential partial updates.

Re:Anyone else remember... (2)

AuMatar (183847) | about a month ago | (#47329735)

Exactly. That's why a modular PCs were never created. There's no way you can get high performance when the user can pick their own RAM, CPU, motherboard, video card, hard drives, etc.

Oh, wait.

Re:Anyone else remember... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47329851)

Exactly! And we consistently see that in the tiny laptops with long battery lives.

Oh, wait.

Re:Anyone else remember... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47330327)

And we consistently see that in the tiny laptops with long battery lives.

I've replaced hard drives, RAM, WiFi, keyboards, power supplies, video cards, batteries and more in many normal laptops. I guess that's why you specified "tiny". It makes the pool of examples small enough for your objection to appear relevant.

Of course, the market for "tiny laptops with long battery lives" is so niche it had a beard and manbag long before anyone else did.

Re:Anyone else remember... (1)

DarwinSurvivor (1752106) | about a month ago | (#47330441)

Replacement is easy, upgrades are a PITA.

Re:Anyone else remember... (1)

dos1 (2950945) | about a month ago | (#47331313)

Exactly. Replacement can be even done in current mobile phones, that's not a big issue.

Scroogled: Chromebooks (1)

tepples (727027) | about a month ago | (#47331625)

I've replaced hard drives, RAM, WiFi, keyboards, power supplies, video cards, batteries and more in many normal laptops.

True, laptops allow RAM and hard drive upgrades and replacing dead keyboards and batteries. But a lot of laptops have video or WLAN circuitry soldered to the motherboard. A lot of others use only a video card or WLAN card whitelisted by the laptop's manufacturer so that the laptop keeps its FCC and HDCP certification.

Of course, the market for "tiny laptops with long battery lives" is so niche

So niche that even Walmart is selling Chromebooks, and Microsoft has had manufacturers bring back the 10" Windows laptop for its Scroogled campaign [scroogled.com] . So the discontinuation of netbooks [slashdot.org] lasted only from the beginning to the end of 2013.

Re:Anyone else remember... (1)

Kielistic (1273232) | about a month ago | (#47332013)

I don't know how big your pockets are but I've always had trouble fitting laptops in them. Maybe they're fit if they were "tiny"? Like cellphone sized maybe?

Re:Anyone else remember... (5, Informative)

PapayaSF (721268) | about a month ago | (#47329891)

Exactly. That's why a modular PCs were never created. There's no way you can get high performance when the user can pick their own RAM, CPU, motherboard, video card, hard drives, etc.

Oh, wait.

Size matters. Desktop PCs are easy to make modular (unless you want an iMac). Laptops are harder, and besides removable batteries, only a few had any modular components (like a DVD drive swappable for an extra battery). Phones are much more space-constrained. Every millimeter counts, and modularity takes up quite a bit of space at that scale, because each part needs to be enclosed, securely attach to the others, etc.

In short, a modular phone is possible, but the trade-offs will be severe, and you'll be able to pick one or two things (e.g. speed, battery life, extra features, small size, etc.) but not all at the same time. And the prices won't be good, because manufacturer(s) will lose economies of scale: it'll be hard to compete with Apple and Samsung making millions and tens of millions of identical units.

Re:Anyone else remember... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47331011)

And the prices won't be good, because manufacturer(s) will lose economies of scale: it'll be hard to compete with Apple and Samsung making millions and tens of millions of identical units.

I would imagine that the individual components could reach comparably large numbers in the modular scenario and thus enjoy similar economies of scale.

The more esoteric parts would cost more. Just like more esoteric complete phones do today.

I'm not ready to dismiss the idea yet.

Re:Anyone else remember... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47331019)

Yeah. And not only that, who decides where to cut the boundaries?

The OP talks abouta PC having RAM, CPU, Motherboard, Video Card. If we take Motherboard as a combination of chipset and backplane, then I can list at least several chips that have either just the CPU, or CPU and chipset, or CPU, chipset and video, or CPU, chipset, video and RAM. So where are the lines drawn? Least common denominator is clearly also least efficient. Guess what the smallest PCs use?

For phones this whole idea is stupidly naive, and I can't believe how much media coverage (and apparent internal funding) it has gotten. Calling it a moonshot is even more ridiculous. It's not even innovation; it's masturbation. If you really want to help the planet, do your homework.

Please provide some real-world scenarios how this is actually going to pan out; right now most of the technologies are pretty well matched and/or making them swappable would have big impacts on size (and additional plastic?).

News flash: connectors are expensive, error prone and bulky.

For example:
- swap the display: higher resolution would probably mean that you would also need a different graphics driver, which, guess what, is integrated with the CPU and a bunch of other shit in one chip.
- increase RAM: RAM is incredibly small and tightly integrated onto the board (for example _below_ another chip), so that a removable module would substantially increase the space requirements. Especially if you take into account the tight timing/buffering requirements.
- increase Flash: just get a phone with MicroSD support...
- Swap for higher resolution camera: this is maybe the only thing that I think holds some merit. Makes you wonder, why haven't LG, HTC, Samsung etc made the camera modular? (hint: because by the time a better camera comes out, you'll also want a better CPU/display/etc)
- Get better battery: have you looked at the rate at which battery tech is improving? Btw, most Samsung phones already have replacable batteries...

Our phones today are incredible marvels of miniaturization. I'm sorry, but it's really irritating to see some people who have NO FUCKING IDEA how to build these type of electronics think that they have a moonshot project.

Here's an idea for Google: why not write an OS so that you can easily swap out your entire phone when you need different functionality? Need more RAM just exchange it and let someone else use your previous phone that still works fine. The fact that we have to "migrate" from one Android phone to another is ridiculous.

Re:Anyone else remember... (1)

tepples (727027) | about a month ago | (#47331747)

Here's an idea for Google: why not write an OS so that you can easily swap out your entire phone when you need different functionality?

In theory, you can put a new Google account on your old phone and Google Play Store will make your old applications available so that you can download it and restore your online backups. But in practice, there are a lot of things not under control of online backup because fitting online backup with everything else you use on a 1 GB per month data plan isn't very fun.

Re:Anyone else remember... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47330109)

Come back to me when a PC has to fit in a pocket and run off a small battery for a day.

Oh, wait.

Re:Anyone else remember... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47331039)

Is that a PC under your arm, or are you just happy to see me?

Seriously, that's a silly comparison. How modular is your laptop? Want to swap the display? How about the webcam? Keyboard?

Modular PCs are huge, and guess what, they are a dying breed.

I think we are actually reaching an era where devices don't need to get much smaller/thinner, so you'll probably start seeing the giants making certain parts modular.

Re:Anyone else remember... (2)

AuMatar (183847) | about a month ago | (#47331201)

I've actually done 2 of the 3 of those on laptops, to replace broken parts. They're fairly modular under the hood. For proof look at the 2 in 1 tablets- basically a snap on keyboard to a tablet. Laptops could easily have been done that way. They just never made them easier to remove because the manufacturers thought they could make more money by not allowing resuse and 3rd party parts. And of course all the internals have always been modular, that's why you can customize them at dell and hp's websites.

Re:Anyone else remember... (1)

dos1 (2950945) | about a month ago | (#47331335)

With enough skill you can replace broken parts in "non-modular" mobile phones as well. That's not the problem.

Try to upgrade CPU on your laptop, let's say from Sandy Bridge to Haswell. Then we can talk.

Re:Anyone else remember... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47329741)

Find me one direct quote that said that. I'm pretty sure the comments were more along the lines of the market is vanishingly small for this kind of geekery.

Re:Anyone else remember... (2)

santiago (42242) | about a month ago | (#47329743)

It's totally possible to build them. They're just going to be twice as thick and 50% heavier than an all-in-one device, so a few weirdos who post on Slashdot will buy them so they can feel smug about how modular their phones are, while everyone else will keep on buying the thinnest, lightest (or cheapest) phones they can find.

Re:Anyone else remember... (1)

LordLimecat (1103839) | about a month ago | (#47329909)

Actually 30% bigger, not 100%.

Re:Anyone else remember... (1)

Ol Olsoc (1175323) | about a month ago | (#47332245)

It's totally possible to build them. They're just going to be twice as thick and 50% heavier than an all-in-one device, so a few weirdos who post on Slashdot will buy them so they can feel smug about how modular their phones are, while everyone else will keep on buying the thinnest, lightest (or cheapest) phones they can find.

Here's the Raspberry pi cellphone. It works.

http://techcrunch.com/2014/04/... [techcrunch.com]

It works, but the concept of these modular devices, which only replace something that is already much better implemented is silly, other than the guy making it having fun doing just that. Maybe make a steampunk brass case for it. But not for 99.9999999 percent of the market.

My guess is that the market for modular cellphones will be somewhat less than for the Pi's or Beaglebones. Gramma probably doesn't want one. That is not Google's business plan last time I looked.

Been there, done that. (1)

Animats (122034) | about a month ago | (#47329641)

Now, from the people who brought you PCMCIA cards... Remember when you could slot an Ethernet interface or a modem into a PCMCIA slot? Same idea.

Phones should be going in the other direction. No connectors at all. A phone today has about four or five radios in it; do any data transfer over WiFi or Bluetooth or the cellular link. Charging should be inductive, which will happen when one of the three competing wireless charging systems wins. Phones should be waterproof, shockproof, dust-resistant, and close to indestructable. [youtube.com]

Re:Been there, done that. (1)

mattack2 (1165421) | about a month ago | (#47329755)

Inductive charging wastes power. Don't you care about the earth?

Re:Been there, done that. (1)

LordLimecat (1103839) | about a month ago | (#47329917)

Its also slow and potentially doesnt charge the phone when its in use. Generally Qi charging hits ~700mAh, which is a discharge rate that you can hit on the road with bluetooth / GPS / data.

Re:Been there, done that. (4, Informative)

stoploss (2842505) | about a month ago | (#47330049)

Its also slow and potentially doesnt charge the phone when its in use.

Not only is it slow, and potentially does not charge the phone while it is in use, it also potentially does not charge the phone when it's on the charger.

More than once, incidentally including last night, I have placed the phone on the charger before bed and awoke to a phone that did not charge because I had placed it slightly off alignment.

I bought this Google charger for my Nexus 5 to make charging more convenient (no fumbling with micro USB with my glasses off, etc).

That makes my experience ironic.

Re:Been there, done that. (1)

ameen.ross (2498000) | about a month ago | (#47331091)

To be fair, the Nexus wireless charging pads suck. Samsung's are better, as they tend to be phone-sized, which makes for much easier alignment. http://www.samsung.com/us/mobi... [samsung.com]

Re:Been there, done that. (1)

AmiMoJo (196126) | about a month ago | (#47331419)

I hate to say this but you must be doing it wrong. The Google charger is magnetic and mine never fails to start charging my phone. The magnets always align it properly. I also have a Panasonic mat that detects where you put the device down and moves the charging coil under it automatically. My LG car-mount has a Qi charger too, and is designed such that it always aligns.

Yeah, the cheap ones suck, but the good ones are not exactly expensive.

Re:Been there, done that. (1)

stoploss (2842505) | about a month ago | (#47332093)

Meh. The magnets don't always align it properly, so you can't just drop it on and expect it to work. You have to either wait to confirm charging started or slowly move the phone around until it starts (rotating it to be perfectly aligned, or up/down + side to side)

If I wanted to spend a lot of time dealing with charging I would just plug it in.

I still use it, but it's not really a time saver when I have to wait a second or two to witness the charging started confirmation (sound or animation). Simply placing the phone on the charger is a 90+% reliable solution, but that's not good enough when these smartphones don't get two days' runtime on a charge.

Re:Been there, done that. (1)

AmiMoJo (196126) | about a month ago | (#47332183)

You have to either wait to confirm charging started or slowly move the phone around until it starts (rotating it to be perfectly aligned, or up/down + side to side)

I don't have to do this. I just drop it in and the magnets pull it into alignment immediately. The area where it will charge is quite large, it doesn't have to be millimetre accurate.

It sounds like maybe your charger or your phone is broken. Google are pretty good with returns, I'd contact them and ask about it.

Re:Been there, done that. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47331701)

Easy solution. Download the Light Flow app and configure it to make the LED solid red when charging. Then whenever it's on the charger, you'll know instantly if it's actually charging or not. And even later you can always tell at a glance whether it got bumped off the charging spot slightly.

Re:Been there, done that. (1)

LordLimecat (1103839) | about a month ago | (#47332197)

AFAIK there are chargers that can align the phone with magnets-- wont fix the poor charge rate though.

Re:Been there, done that. (1)

Megol (3135005) | about a month ago | (#47330765)

How about USB charging? A standard USB host can have a limit of 500mA (most can deliver more current) and using a powered USB 2 hub that limit is often enforced.

Re:Been there, done that. (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | about a month ago | (#47331417)

Comparing mA is stupid without also comparing voltage. The USB can provide 500mA at 5V, which is 2.5W. There are also modes for higher power, but they require negotiation. The Qi charging spec allows delivering up to 5W to low-power devices, 120W to high-power ones.

Re:Been there, done that. (1)

Neil Boekend (1854906) | about a month ago | (#47331627)

For charging the protocol has been extended to 2100 mA @ 4.8V (approx 10 watt). That's what a standard USB wall wart delivers nowadays.
A standard USB host is not suitable to charge a tablet from. That would only slow the power usage down (when the tablet is in full use)

Re:Been there, done that. (1)

LordLimecat (1103839) | about a month ago | (#47332215)

The 500mA limit is a thing of the past, and has been for many years. That limit is for devices that have not negotiated higher amperage; its not unusual to see 1.5A charge rates with an android. Not sure what the iPhones hit, but I wouldnt be surprised if they dont get ~1.5-2A as well.

Re:Been there, done that. (1)

Megol (3135005) | about a month ago | (#47330753)

It's possible to get >90% efficiency with wireless power, I don't know if I'd call that wasting...

Re:Been there, done that. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47330039)

wait, so my work laptop has a PCMCIA card that reads the crypto token in my building badge. I have one that's a decent (not great) oscilloscope and logic probe, and we used a PCMCIA boot disk with linux to diagnose laptops. What's so bad about it?

For the phone. I'd love to have a lidar back to my phone. I could do the same, I guess, with a separate bluetooth thing, but carrying a phone as just a phone would be nice. That same access token, it has a bluetooth sled to the blackberry. Would be nice if it were just integrated. Similarly, would be really nice for indoor mapping (yes, I do way too much of that) to have a good INS that would be part of my phone. Rare, I know, but there might be enough people who go caving and caving through access tunnels for that to make sense. And that's just three hardware modules.

Re:Been there, done that. (2)

Electricity Likes Me (1098643) | about a month ago | (#47330395)

God no, the trend to wireless only is the worst.

I want a high-speed wired interface on my phone. Like, if you can fit a 10g ethernet port in there, I want that. I also want a mini-display port connector.

Radios are for differential transfer and continuity. If I need to move data on and off the device, I want that done as fast as possible.

Re:Been there, done that. (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | about a month ago | (#47331423)

I'd rather have a Thunderbolt port on the phone and put everything else (external GPU, SATA controller, GigE controller, and so on) in a PCIe dock.

Re:Been there, done that. (1)

Neil Boekend (1854906) | about a month ago | (#47331685)

Ports mean entry points for water and dust, crappy covers or expensive ports.
Phones need to be waterproof IMHO. They get wet during an unexpected rain while commuting by bike, so they better be able to handle water.
Data transfer via IEEE 802.11ac (theoretical 500 Mbit/s) is plenty fast for most cases. It's a phone, not a fileserver.
For DisplayPort: there are a couple of companies quite busy with wireless HDMI. It would require another antenna and an additional chip, but that's where it's going.

Re:Been there, done that. (1)

DavidYaw (447706) | about a month ago | (#47332083)

I also want a mini-display port connector.

They already have that. You can plug your phone into a monitor with a SlimPort [wikipedia.org] adapter.

Re:Been there, done that. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47332281)

Modular interconnect is based on 12Gb/s M-Phy. Larger 2x2 modules actually have two pad blocks for 24Gb/s total bandwidth. Mini display port module is a perfectly feasible concept.

Re:Been there, done that. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47331501)

> Now, from the people who brought you PCMCIA cards

PCMCIA? Didn't USB kill that? Even a netbook can be expanded with a USB ethernet or modem or camera or more hard drive space or 1000s of other things you can throw in your bag and take with you. Hell many of the common ones even come with a "slimline" more expensive variant so you don't have to unplug it as you move it about.

I know this type of phone is not for you, that is fine. I can get almost the phone I want and I'm happy to pay to get one closer. Modular phones may well get me there, it might be a little bigger and little more expensive but that is a price I'm happy to pay.

Battery-powered hub (1)

tepples (727027) | about a month ago | (#47331719)

Even a netbook can be expanded with a USB ethernet or modem or camera or more hard drive space or 1000s of other things you can throw in your bag and take with you.

I know. I carry a 10" laptop because there are plenty of things I do while riding the bus that I can't do on a smartphone or iPad. But one big advantage that a 10" laptop has over a smartphone is it's not quite as battery-constrained. In order to hook all these USB peripherals up to a tablet, someone might have to invent a battery-powered hub.

I know this type of phone is not for you, that is fine. I can get almost the phone I want and I'm happy to pay to get one closer.

But once a modular cell phone does come out, how long will it remain available until there aren't enough people buying it to keep it in production? For a while, manufacturers gave up on 10" laptops throughout 2013 [slashdot.org] until Microsoft wanted something to fight the Chromebook with in its Scroogled campaign.

Re:Battery-powered hub (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47331815)

It's funny how devices that can't do "plenty of things you do while riding the bus" are named "smartphones". Android/iOS/WP etc. devices are just the featurephones of this age. Nokia N900 was a true *smart*phone, and Openmoko Neo Freerunner would be close if only it had more power and some reasonable keyboard.

I'm looking forward for Neo900 and possible successors. With this kind of *smart*phone, there's no need to carry 10" laptop at all.

Turn off WiFi (1)

Mister Liberty (769145) | about a month ago | (#47329653)

... automatically when out of reach of a base station.
There's prob. an app for that -- I need to look.

Okay, how 'bout this for project Ara: a module that
will learn to parrot me, that can fake me going about town
and carry the phone, leave a fake triangulation trace, fake
usage, mail, web, settings twiddling -- the works, everything
indistinguishable from the real live thing.
There should be a market for this.

Re:Turn off WiFi (2)

Hanzie (16075) | about a month ago | (#47330599)

Okay, how 'bout this for project Ara: a module that will learn to parrot me, that can fake me going about town and carry the phone, leave a fake triangulation trace, fake usage, mail, web, settings twiddling -- the works, everything indistinguishable from the real live thing.
There should be a market for this.

I'm sure the gNarly Super Apps company will be making that module for you in no time...

Re:Turn off WiFi (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | about a month ago | (#47331429)

Turning off WiFi when you're out of range of a base station is easy. Turning it back on when you come back in range is hard...

"Almost" works? (3, Insightful)

maccodemonkey (1438585) | about a month ago | (#47329657)

"In the demo above, the phone displayed a partial boot screen before freezing."

"Google Demos Modular Phone That (Almost) Actually Works"

Maybe it's just me, but if a phone can't even get to the dialer to make a phone call, that's a little further from "actually working" than "almost."

I mean that seriously. My problem isn't with the phone itself. My problem is with the overly generous summary.

Call me a troll, but if any company other than Google unveiled this phone, and it didn't even boot during the demo, I don't think the reaction would be as positive.

Re:"Almost" works? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47329915)

Considering that it even displayed a boot screen. It means their pll(s), power distribution management(s), board support package(s), hardware design managed to get all the components and interconnects to a functional state.

That actually is very impressive given the timeline. Once you're at this point, figuring out the configurations changes needed to get things running smoothly is comparatively trivial.

Re:"Almost" works? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47330525)

How is that impressive, that they got some wires to touch?

Never mind if the antenna works well, or the phone doesn't electrocute people when soda is spilled on it, or doesn't fall apart when dropped a foot, or is slow, or just costs too much.

This is a failed demo. It's not the slightest bit impressive.

Re:"Almost" works? (1)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | about a month ago | (#47331265)

No kidding - the GP has never done any driver development.

Re:"Almost" works? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47331897)

And what you're saying is that they couldn't figure out this 'trivial' thing even though they got the 'hard' part?
Do you sell astroturf for a living?

Re:"Almost" works? (2)

LordLucless (582312) | about a month ago | (#47330073)

Maybe it's just me, but if a phone can't even get to the dialer to make a phone call, that's a little further from "actually working" than "almost."

A phone that can get to the dialler to make a phone call would be "working". So you're not willing to acknowledge something as "almost working" until it's actually fully functional?

Re:"Almost" works? (4, Funny)

pushing-robot (1037830) | about a month ago | (#47330271)

A phone that can get to the dialer to make a phone call would be "working"

And this is why QA hates devs.

Re:"Almost" works? (2)

martin-boundary (547041) | about a month ago | (#47331145)

What's your damage, Heather? Alpha is the new Beta.

Re: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47330795)

Maybe it's just me, but if a phone can't even get to the dialer to make a phone call, that's a little further from "actually working" than "almost."

A phone that can get to the dialler to make a phone call would be "working". So you're not willing to acknowledge something as "almost working" until it's actually fully functional?

Can only dial numbers or can see contacts and dial?
Can disconnect or not?
Does an incoming call disconnect existing call?
Can add contacts or not?

Each feature there can be 10s of such test cases which all together say if the phone works or not.
Just saying that if u can get to dialer and make a phone call as 'working' is knave.

It is not almost working if it is not even booting. It is a half baked product.

Re: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47330903)

Maybe it's just me, but if a phone can't even get to the dialer to make a phone call, that's a little further from "actually working" than "almost."

A phone that can get to the dialler to make a phone call would be "working". So you're not willing to acknowledge something as "almost working" until it's actually fully functional?

Alright, Captain Pedantic, it almost works as a phone.
Can I interest you in a lightbulb I have here that almost lights up or this wheel that is almost round?

Re:"Almost" works? (1)

aaaaaaargh! (1150173) | about a month ago | (#47331109)

Let's just say that the phone is an engineering marvel and a really fine example for the state of the art in current technology for end consumers.

Re:"Almost" works? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47330889)

They weren't unveiling anything, it was a technical demonstration. Summary may not be objective, but neither are you.

Re:"Almost" works? (1)

Salgat (1098063) | about a month ago | (#47331445)

Considering this is focused on a huge change to the hardware, the fact that it even can start booting shows they have significant progress in it. I have a feeling you have no idea how much work it takes to get to that point. Hell, the original iPhone barely managed to boot and had to follow a strict order of actions when doing it at the original Apple unveiling or else it would crash. This is still a phone very much in development, you need to respect that.

Re:"Almost" works? (1)

NotInHere (3654617) | about a month ago | (#47331619)

Call me a troll, but if any company other than Google unveiled this phone, and it didn't even boot during the demo, I don't think the reaction would be as positive.

What about Microsoft [youtube.com] ?

A waste of time (1)

DrXym (126579) | about a month ago | (#47329673)

Yeah it's modular and a few years from now they'll upgrade the bus or tweak the dimensions or bump the battery requirements and now that modular phone is as obsolete as all the rest. Or worse, future modules are gimped to conform to the old standard and include circuitry to step down in some way. Either way users get a device which costs more and doesn't deliver something tangibly better.

For some reason this reminds me of old Windows (1)

pkinetics (549289) | about a month ago | (#47329699)

What do you mean I have a conflict on an IRQ????

I plugs in this video card and it works. I plugs in this video card and it doesn't.

I think the concept is cool and as the pathways between modules gets faster, it will be great. But I'll wait for a few more releases before I try it. Unless someone gives me one for super cheap.

Re:For some reason this reminds me of old Windows (1)

Neil Boekend (1854906) | about a month ago | (#47331715)

"Well, you bastard, they you shouldn't have assigned that IRQ to two devices. Don't you keep a list?"
Yeah that time was "fun".

Hey, AmigaOS has a gift for you... (1)

Anaerin (905998) | about a month ago | (#47329737)

It's called Autoconfig [wikipedia.org] . Essentially, Autoconfig does IRQ and address assignment (And is so good at it that Intel copied it for their "Plug'n'Play" system), but Autoconfig does more than that. It also initializes the firmware and loads it in. And the firmware for each device then contains the necessary libraries to (at the very least) get the hardware running. So, for example, hard-drive controllers get their drivers loaded and the hard-drive becomes available as a boot device, network cards are initialized enough that PXE booting works, graphics cards are started up and displays initialized, sound cards are initialized, etc.

So, essentially, every piece of hardware would take care of it's own drivers and NVRam config. WiFi module has WiFi drivers on it. And so on. The configuration software was not included on-device, but there's next-to-no reason why that couldn't be on-device too, as the price of flash is extremely cheap these days.

Re:Hey, AmigaOS has a gift for you... (1)

jd2112 (1535857) | about a month ago | (#47330325)

It's called Autoconfig [wikipedia.org]

Or, alternately, 'Plug and P[l|r]ay'.

Re:Hey, AmigaOS has a gift for you... (1)

itzly (3699663) | about a month ago | (#47330769)

You'll still need a way to update the drivers, and if you can update them, you can also use the same mechanism to download them in the first place. No need for extra flash chips in every peripheral.

Re:Hey, AmigaOS has a gift for you... (1)

Anaerin (905998) | about a month ago | (#47330807)

Okay, so here's a scenario for you. I've just built a nice new Ara phone. It has a computing module, a camera module, an LTE/GSM+SIM module, a 802.11a/b/g/n/ac module, 128GBs of storage, a touchscreen and a fingerprint reader.

It's the first time I've put this device together, with brand new parts out of the box. How am I meant to download the drivers? I can't use the WiFi, or the cellular modem, I don't have drivers for them yet. And I can't display any kind of configuration, because the display isn't set up either.

The "phone" has the main OS pre-loaded (I'm presuming a bare kernel on the Computing module, as that's what would decide what version of binaries and the like would be needed), so it can boot, but there's no functionality on it to mount the storage, or bring up the display, or even to start the WiFi and/or Cellular data, because there's no drivers for that yet.

The way I'm suggesting means that all the drivers are compartmentalized and available from first boot. The moment you slot a new module in it's ready to use. And while you can update the software onboard, you don't need to download software to get the system up and running. The on-module flash would also be locked into read-only mode for regular operations, and only unlocked as read/write when an update is required.

Re:Hey, AmigaOS has a gift for you... (2)

itzly (3699663) | about a month ago | (#47330851)

You do it just like on a Linux PC/laptop. The OS comes packaged with all the drivers. And if you have a modular system where you can plug and play random hardware components, you'll need to standardize the interfaces anyway. If you have standard interfaces, it's easy to have a default compatibility mode, where a device will work with a basic driver to provide enough functionality so the user can download and install all the driver updates.

Re:Hey, AmigaOS has a gift for you... (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about a month ago | (#47331457)

You'll still need a way to update the drivers, and if you can update them, you can also use the same mechanism to download them in the first place. No need for extra flash chips in every peripheral.

You need flash if you want to update the early driver. Some Amiga cards' roms didn't work properly with later versions of the OS, and you couldn't use them at all, or you couldn't use them at boot. You had to wait for the OS to load, and load the driver.

If this were Microsoft... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47329931)

All hell would break loose and people would be complaining about a #demofail
Grow up idiots

Lots of micro sd or usb (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47329989)

they should make sure the bus spec on the modules just includes a little storage so each module has its own driver on a tiny slab of flash.

Interchangable crypto modules (3, Interesting)

stox (131684) | about a month ago | (#47330023)

One for the business, or for each business, one for the kids, one for the wife, and one for the mistress.

Heater (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47330239)

Make an electric heater module and you've got a portable hand warmer. Where's my $10,000? Now that I've disclosed this, you can't patent it :P (well, I didn't give implementation details...)

Re:Heater (1)

DarwinSurvivor (1752106) | about a month ago | (#47330463)

I can tell you from first hand experience, pun intended, than MANY current phones work just fine as hand warmers.

This just in... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47330821)

It seems Google just got the inside scoop on Apple's plans about 6 months ago.

The obvious one.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47331023)

...makes coffee.

"something that current smartphones can't do." (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a month ago | (#47331065)

Read and Write to MicroSD cards residing in a cozy spot inside the phone. BAM!

Remember here, they said "current" phones.

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