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The Ara from Motorola harkens back to the hardware-modding heydey of PCs.

Motorola wants you to assemble your next smartphone out of Lego-like parts

Finally, something truly new in smartphones.

For the past year, Motorola has been working on a secret project, called Ara, to allow people to customize the hardware of their Android phones just as thoroughly as they customize their software. The physical design is straightforward: A metal skeleton, called an “endo,” has slots into which people can slide any component they like. The components themselves will be made by manufacturers other than Motorola, which means the sky’s the limit in terms of how creative these third-party manufacturers can get.

Smartphones could become infinitely customizable, as hackers build their own parts for Ara.

Just think of it: What if sliding a better processor or beefier battery into your phone were as simple as popping out one of its hardware components? Or perhaps you’re a photographer who would like a phone with two (or more) different lenses built in. Or maybe you’re the sort who wants to max out the phone’s processor, so it can double as your PC.

Ara is for everyone, but hand models to the front of the line.

Ara is more than just renderings: Motorola says it has done “deep technical work” on the project and that it will be releasing a kit for developers to play with in the next few months. The company has also teamed up with the leader of the Phonebloks project, an earlier, more conceptual effort to create a phone out of snap-in pieces.

At this point Ara is an experiment, and many consumers might never need or want to customize their phone hardware. But if Ara takes off, it’s the sort of innovation that could threaten Apple.

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