Project Ara x Fairphone

I don’t know Fairphone’s current view on Project Ara, the module based (Phonebloks alike) phone ecosystem which is currently in development. I for one think this initiative is one that has a lot of potential in giving consumers the power to choose when it comes to their phone. This will reduce electronic waste since parts can easily be replaced and rebough

The thing is that this is an amazing opportunity for Fairphone. If fairphone would evolve into producing ara modules, many problems would be solved.

  • The consumers of a fair trade produced phone would not have to compromize on their precerences anymore

  • The work that would have to take place in order to deliver the product would be greatly reduced since the ecosystem is maintained by Motorola.

  • Fairphone would be more accessible to consumers.

Tomorrow the second conference for module developers will take place and I want to start early by bringing up the discussion over here.

More info:

I agree with you that projects like Project Ara will give more choice to consumers and may allow them to be more connected to the product development. I think Fairphone can be inspired by the Ara project (and Phonebloks) in terms of community-supported product development.

But not sure about this:

Any information to back this up?

We could also open up the discussion and see who among us are fans of modular design? I’m curious if it’s a small niche, or getting larger.

Well it’s not something scientific but more common sense really… For example, if your phone’s camera breaks, you don’t have to get a completely new phone (which is sometimes cheaper than repair costs). Instead you can just replace that specific component. Same thing goes for someone who might need more from their phone. Instead of buying a new one, they can upgrade the specific component and resell their old one.

I agree that modular design phones is in very early stages at this point but I think that the consumers are quite ready for this as the next step, and I hope that Fairphone could be a central part of it.

I see your point, but I’m afraid it is too optimistic. With modular design, the opposite is possible too: every time a new camera is developed, you get a new one. And every time a new processor hits the market, you update your phone. And so on… This would mean you generate a lot more e-waste, because it’s easier and cheaper to replace “only one piece” (every time again) than a whole phone.

So whether or not it will generate more e-waste, will mostly depend on your personal behavior. And to be honest, I don’t really trust individual behavior to be very environmental-friendly :disappointed:


daniel: let’s be honest and think of people (individuals) as utterly self-centred :slight_smile: we may then take an “overall average” of the mass-effect of there being such people, and make some educated guesses as to how to minimise enviromnental impact and make money, yes? people’s motivation is based on desire, value and cost. so let’s imagine that there isn’t a modular smartphone available. what do you think would happen? well, i imagine that people would still buy the “better phone” and, being utterly self-centred, would discard the entire old phone into landfill rather than waste time selling it on ebay because it is not worth their time to do so.

now contrast that with a thriving eco-system where there exists modular upgrades that took less environmental resources to create. although just as distasteful when you consider that people may still discard perfectly-good modules into landfill because they cannot be bothered to sell it on ebay as it would take more time and gain them less money to do so than they could earn by working at their paid job for another half an hour, the amount of landfill that would result from throwing away a 2cm x 2cm module is far less than would result from them throwing away an 8cm x 15cm entire smartphone.

this kind of responsible design decision-making is what drives the people behind and it turns out that there are over 900,000 people in the world who are not as self-centred to the point of being environmentally-irresponsible as the above scenario outlines. but that is enough people to have an effect, to change the views of those people who are not as socially and environmentally responsible.

now, it turns out that modules are the sort of thing that you can charge more money for, when sold individually. every salesman knows the trick “sold on a minor item”. you get the punter hooked on the “budget item” then upgrade the sale based on the “bling” - the minor items. you provide a valuable service in other words, allowing the user to spend the money that they can and want to spend now. later is always later.

right now people have absolute stark buying choices even from the same manufacturer and that has got to stop.

1 Like

joe: according to the phonebloks social media campaign there are over 900,000 active supporters and over 350 million people were reached through the campaign. i am something of a socially-backwards nerd and i talk to non-computer-literate people and one out of three of the people i talk to have heard of phonebloks!

so you ask if people are ready for the modular phone concept the answer is YES, damnit! :smile:

kruttekrax: whilst the phonebloks concept is superb and something i support wholeheartedly, and google’s project ara is a good first step, google’s project ara is a closed proprietary design which has been done in total secrecy without wider consultation with the software libre community and with no feedback from any outsiders of any kind.

the problem i have with this approach is that google has so much money that their team may take short-cuts. without any kind of oversight or feedback, they could (and almost certainly are) making decisions that will have a long-term detrimental impact or produce exactly the kinds of hardware-design vendor lock-in that the FairPhone project has already run smack into at a significant cost and disappointment for themselves and their customers.

modular designs require that you create long-term standards. it’s not like you can change anything once you have released the first design, so whatever you decide now, you have to live with for the next 10 years… or you have to throw away the entire eco-system, thus annoying a whole stack of users whom you promised - faithfully - that you would provide them with a better environmentally-conscious buying opportunity.

to give you a simple (surprising) example: take the LCD screen. innocuous, right? surely the screen’s not that important how you talk to it. is it? it turns out however that certain types of LCD interfaces are… well, they’re cartelled. several Executives of the world’s top LCD manufacturers were jailed a few years ago, you can look it up.

why does this matter to Fairphone? because if there are only certain specific LCD manufacturers that you can buy from, it leaves Fairphone with some… uncomfortable choices. they do not have the buying power to influence these cartels, pure and simple. bottom line: they may not even be able to use Project Ara at all because it may turn out that all possible LCD manufacturers with the LCD interface that google chose are incompatible with the Fairphone ethics on supply

[edit: the interface chosen by google is highly likely to be a modern one such as eDP or MIPI, where it is very easy to check on that the number of available LCDs is extremely limited, and only available from a select few manufacturers. by contrast if you search on for RGB/TTL or LVDS LCDs, the numbers are huge: several thousand LCD panel models, all of them still in production. as a result the costs are lower as there is more competition i.e. no cartelling]

so it matters - even on something as simple as choosing the right LCD, and this process of choosing the right component is something that has to be thought through for every single component when you make these kinds of decisions to be environmentally and socially responsible, as FairPhone have done.

question. has google opened up the discussion on development and design of Project Ara so that these things may be taken into account? of course they haven’t. with the amount of money that they have, they have been able to plough ahead without sufficient thought, designing parts, asking suppliers even to customise an entire new SoC on their behalf, and ordering components without thinking through the full long-term consequences of their decisions.

so… i love the modular phone concept, but it really does have to be done in an open forum, not behind closed doors. that gives people the opportunity to have their say. and, joe, you’ve already seen what happens (deciding to use Mediatek SoCs for example) when decisions are made behind closed doors…


[Edited by @Chris_R]


ok, so i am forced, @kruttekrax kruttekrax, to reply by editing a former reply, as a means to respond to your comments here:

I might have gotten this all wrong but I belive you are wrong at ara
design decisions being made behind closed doors.

you provided a link (someone else sent it to me as well). what is the first thing that you notice? there is a requirement to “sign an agreement”. immediately that is “closed doors”. that cannot be argued with or denied.

As I said, they are
doing an module developer conference as we speak in california with one
in singapore soon to come. Also, google itself is not exclusively
working on this project but has teamed up with many different partners
in the attemt of creating the free open ecosystem that they want project
ara to become.

secondly if you look at what they say they have created, the backbone is based on something called “MIPI UniPro”. this is an entirely new technology, meaning that only a handful of companies will have developed chipsets, and for anyone wishing to create new chipsets they will need a budget in excess of $USD 2 million, possibly as high as $USD 10 million in development costs and NREs.

by contrast, the Embedded Open Modular Standards (EOMA) that i have been working on are absolutely simple, and use pre-existing standards that have been around for at least 2 decades, and have a well-documented “upgrade” roadmap.

Also, I’m not that technical but I don’t think I see the problem with
LCD manufacurers here.

it’s all in there. you need to go through what i wrote, carefully. the key problem is that FairPhone is an ethical company that ensures all parts are responsibly sourced.

I mean if Fairphone could make a phone with a
LCD screen, why would it not work to sell that screen separately as a
module with the fair-phone label? The screen is a module. Everything is a
module! (Except the endoskeleton)

judging from the use of MIPI UniPro as the backbone, it’s going to be a module with a MIPI interface. MIPI interfaces are provided on very few screens by highly specialist companies that will NOT talk to just anyone. If Fairphone wishes to design an entirely new LCD module, because the current LCD modules do not meet their ethical sourcing requirements, TOUGH. at only 50,000 units they are TOO SMALL to deal with these companies.

the same thing goes for if you wish to create a WIFI module. want a chipset which converts from MIPI to USB so you can create an FSF-Endorseable WIFI module? sure, it’ll cost you a fortune from a select few companies, require NDAs that will prevent and prohibit you from working with the Free Software Community. are there any other choices? NO. develop your own chipset? sure, if you have $USD 10 million, go ahead.

is that clear enough? do you begin to see how much of a serious problem this is? every module that FairPhone wishes to sell will need to be reviewed to check that the components comply with their ethical sourcing rules. if one doesn’t, what do they do?

1 Like

I might have gotten this all wrong but I belive you are wrong at ara design decisions being made behind closed doors. As I said, they are doing an module developer conference as we speak in california with one in singapore soon to come. Also, google itself is not exclusively working on this project but has teamed up with many different partners in the attemt of creating the free open ecosystem that they want project ara to become.

Also, I’m not that technical but I don’t think I see the problem with LCD manufacurers here. I mean if Fairphone could make a phone with a LCD screen, why would it not work to sell that screen separately as a module with the fair-phone label? The screen is a module. Everything is a module! (Except the endoskeleton)

The critical problems you talk about does not convince me. I might just be slow… :smile:

Some more links:

Technical info:
Livestream from developer conference:


There is a big difference between working in the open and publishing open specs. After reading the mdk license agreement I don’t feel like spending much energy on this topic

Interestingly enough most of the code is released under an open source license.

Okay, so you are saying that the currently manufactured Fairphone is being made with some more common technical standard than what is used in ARA? Because I wasn’t as technically cunning as you, I just thought that you could take the current Fairphone apart and ship it in modules (over-simplified of course)…

ok so chris_r (thank you chris!) sorted out the [ridiculous] limitation of this forum, placing a burden on everyone who wishes to read conversations in the order in which they occur. i’m referring to the limitation on the number of replies permitted by “new” users. i was forced by the forum source code - even advised - to edit a previous reply because “only three replies were permitted in one thread”.

so, for those people who may be wondering, esp kruttekrax, yes i replied to you earlier but i was forced to edit an existing reply to do so. you (and everyone else) is therefore forced to go back and re-read. look for the words “Chris_R Edit”, ok?

hi krutterkrax, ok, this isn’t anything “technical”, per se. FairPhone promised its users that the materials would not be unethically sourced (no “conflict minerals” for example), and that the factory workers would receive equitable pay as well as have a trust fund set up for them.

that you already know, i am sure.

now, the problem comes where because Project ARA uses a completely new type of absolute top cutting-edge technology, where only the companies with billion-dollar revenues may be directly involved in its development, the actual number of companies who even have Silicon ICs readily available for use in Project ARA compatible phones and components is… well, i heard that there’s one, for sure: Fujitsu. there could be others, but they don’t show up even on the first ten pages of a google search “MIPI UniPro”. what you do find is a lot of companies selling what are called “Hard Macros” which you can license usually for somewhere around $USD 200,000 to make your own silicon IC, which will cost you around $1 to $5m (possibly more) to do…

… are you starting to see what the problem is?

  1. if the very few suppliers of these ICs use “conflict minerals”, or any other kinds of unethical processes or procedures that are at odds with the FairPhone ethics, then FairPhone simply CANNOT be involved with Project ARA… because there will be no other options available, period.

  2. if the very few module manufacturers that can even gain access to these extremely limited numbers of ICs happen not to follow the ethical procedures and processes that FairPhone wishes to see happen, then FairPhone has absolutely no choice but to stop considering Project ARA at all… because there would be no other options available.

so this is about markets and ethics. it is not actually about technology at all, but at how advanced and how new that technology is, and the consequences of that innovation when it comes to market choice. Corporations are pathologically required BY LAW to maximise profits. Social Enterprises on the other hand must “not make a loss”. where a Social Enterprise has no choices in the market, they must either abandon the principles and ethics that they have set, or they must simply not enter the market at all.

1 Like

the key word there is “most”. FairPhone has already been shouted at by a very large number of annoyed customers for falling into the trap of having “most” of the source code, already.

this really isn’t looking very good for Project ARA, is it?

Something to consider in this discussion is the business model of the operators. The duration of most phone subscription is 24 months; after that a newer subscription (phone model) is bought. It is possible to buy a new phone before the contract has expired, but you still have the phone that is part of the old subscription. So the maximum life time of a mobile is two years, often less.
For the Ara model to work the operator has to change it’s business model, or sell a mid-range Ara phone with the contract, with possibilities to purchase better cameras etc. (good for their business) Alternatively the consumer buys the cheapest phone with the contract and a separate Ara phone to customize it.

Another issue to consider: the initial cost of a socio/eco phone (FairPhone). The FP 1 model costs 325€, which is do-able (?). If you make it more expensive because you add extra functionality (better processor, block approach) the cost of the phone may become prohibitively high. As said, 325€ is do-able, but 425€ for a phone that has many features I do not need (for example, better processor, fancier screen) and is scalable (you can replace elements) is to high an initial investment for me. I may go for a Samsung with sufficient capabilities, and donate the social premium that are part of the FP cost to a charity of my choosing. Making the phones fancier (more expensive) than the target group wishes to pay for it makes you loose your customers. Hardly the objective

PS: also read the Phonebloks page, but that looks to be in the PowerPoint phase; no product in the near future.

hi krutterax,

i’m using you as a guineapig, hope you don’t mind :slight_smile: is what i wrote clear enough now? if it is then i can move on to some of the positive aspects and outline a potential strategy for FairPhone, should they wish to get involved with Project ARA.

hi apheiner,

yes, mobile phone operators also want you to upgrade, upgrade, upgrade, it’s how they get repeat business. i question though how much of their strategy is based around the business model of the manufacturers themselves who also want you to upgrade, upgrade, upgrade. the tail wagging the environmentally and ethically conscious dog, so to speak.

the primary reason why the operators run 24 to 36 month contracts is because the cost of the hardware is so incredibly expensive that they subsidise it, offering you a loan in effect as a means to spread the cost over a long period of time. they also put pressure on the manufacturers to reduce cost, so the manufacturers are even more desperate to make sure that the devices go obselete and require replacing.

all in all it is environmentally highly irresponsible… and we don’t have any choice but to follow in this insanity! and it does have to be said - apologies to all at FairPhone - that FairPhone is, unwittingly, by following the exact same business and supply model, also acting in a similarly environmentally-irresponsible fashion.

so, thinking it through, what would we imagine would happen if phones were modular and upgradeable? well, one might imagine that the sales teams in the operator’s stores would sell hardware upgrades, offer extended warranties for processor module upgrades, even help you put the new module into your existing phone and let you try it out before you buy it, and so on.

there would be NO NEED to replace the entire phone phone, but the sales contract - the relationship between the customer and the supplier - could be extended in different ways, through sales of modules, could it not?

and the neat thing about that is that the customers could buy an initial lower-cost device to suit their budget, then buy upgrade modules as they could afford them later. if the operator sales shops quite reasonably require that they only use modules purchased from them (in order to protect the device from damage against 3rd party unverified modules), then the long-term relationship is still there.

and the neat thing is that all of this will just happen… naturally, once modular phones become mainstream and sold through operators. it won’t be necessary to spell it out to them, it will just… happen.

regarding the second paragraph about cost, i assume you are referring to the advantages of a modular device? that you would much prefer to buy an ethically-sourced and ethically-designed modular phone product, then upgrade it later? because what you are describing is a direct consequence of the high cost of components (which you don’t normally see). the distinct disadvantage FairPhone has - by choosing the non-modular approach is falling into the trap of selling phones without the subsidising strategy that operators have worked out almost 2 decades ago.

bottom line: FairPhone is selling direct and without any kind of contract, so as an end-user you feel the cold hard reality of the high cost of mobile phone components and the R&D costs that went into it. this puts pressure and limitations onto FairPhone that could be mitigated by a modular strategy… [and Project ARA would be a good one to go with if it wasn’t for the fact that the entire project - including partnerships - is being done with absolutely no consideration for ethical and social responsibility that are directly at odds with FairPhone ethics].

btw, apheiner: is a forum for like-minded invididuals actively interested in seeing modular phones and modular products be brought into existence. they’ve made the decision that they won’t ever actually make their own phone. or tablet. or laptop. so it is an information resource and gateway, so if you want to find out more about potential active products, go look at their “Partners” page, ok? you’ll see for example that Project ARA has high prominence on the site.


If what you meant was that the problem with Ara is this new exclusive technology that would be problematic to find a ethical partner that could manufacture it for a cheap price, then I think I got it… :blush:

Feel free to move on!

… or even at all, yes exactly. hehe, awesome.

the key i think is that if FairPhone want to influence Project ARA, so that ethical considerations are accounted for, they need to get in the conversation now. that means sending someone to the conferences and making it absolutely clear what you want, and ask how you are going to get it.

if they wait, it’ll be too late. in some ways it already is - esp. with the FPv2 already chosen to be [another] non-hardware-upgradeable monolithic design, that means a financial committment and profits already invested.

the alternative, guys (i’m talking drectly to the FairPhone team here) - is that you just “wait and see”, including “see if China companies by the dozen (so you have some market choice) start producing compatible chipsets on their own”. but “wait and see” means “about 5-10 years”, during which time the manufacturing cartels will be well-established, and very hard to influence. and also will have had a history of 5-10 years of profit-maximising with disregard to social and ethical responsibility. not your problem, i know, but all the same…

about the only other possible ideas are:

  • to find other companies doing modular mobile phone designs. there is one that is in start-up mode right now, they divided the product into base, radio and processor modules.
  • to start your own Open Smartphone Modular Standard. this is btw what i am going to be doing. i have to focus on getting the modular laptop and tablet out the door first, though, but i am already sourcing components and working on the standard. it will be made up of well-established standards where components are extremely commonly available and can be readily sourced from a very wide range of manufacturers.
  • to contact someone like BugLabs - these guys - - and see if they’d like to partner to adapt their product into a mass-volume saleable smartphone. much as i’d rather be the one to work with FairPhone, providing them with ethically designed hardware, i feel compelled to also point out the full list of alternatives that i am aware of :smile:

modular phone architectures really are worthwhile pursuing. not least, you have to bear in mind that the modules have to “just work”, meaning that the curent practice of reducing the cost by uploading firmware to e.g. the WIFI or 3G chipset from the main OS’s NAND is a definite “no-no”. the strangely unintended beneficial consequence of that is that all the modules will… just work. they have to be self-contained, with their own on-board firmware. and that means a massive reduction in “support calls”, “upgrades gone wrong” calls, and so on.

even as an ordinary business strategy, taking away the ethical considerations entirely, modular designs make sense in terms of reduced cost for the company supplying them. i’m just… really surprised that it hasn’t been done before.

@apheiner Phonebloks never intended to build there own phone, but rather to push other firms to pick up the idea. That’s why they did the social media campaign, to raise awarness.

I mistook the Blokphone awareness project with the Puzzlephone project ( That device will not be on the market anytime soon