Motorola Mobility Holdings LLC (NYSE:MMI)’s Project Ara will create an open standard that anyone can use to design and sell customized components for smartphones, and if it’s even remotely successful it will radically change the mobile market.

Motorola Project Ara

Project Ara has an endo

Motorola Mobility Holdings LLC (NYSE:MMI) wants “to do for hardware what the Android platform has done for software: create a vibrant third-party developer ecosystem, lower the barriers to entry, increase the pace of innovation, and substantially compress development timelines,” the company wrote in a blog post.

Project Ara has an endo, short for endoskeleton, that holds everything together, and modules that make the phone work. Some modules are easy to imagine: a keyboard, touchscreen, camera, the usual smartphone staples. But they can be anything. Any hardware developers with a cool idea will be able to run with it and pitch directly to consumers instead of trying to sell the design to some moribund corporation.

The cost of 3D printing continues to drop

In the short-term this is cool, but in the long-term it could be revolutionary. The cost of 3D printing continues to drop, and the complexity of what can be printed continues to increase. It’s already possible to print complex objects (3D printed guns, minus the firing pins, have been a source of ongoing controversy), and while phone components aren’t possible right now, I wouldn’t bet against it in the next five years.

For now, whether or not Project Ara is a success depends on how easy it is to use. Android OS has exploded in popularity because regular customers can access everything they want while power users can make radical alterations to the phone. Linux-based operating systems, including the ‘user friendly’ Ubuntu distros, have a steep learning curve and a heavy time commitment, so their audience has never broken past a few tech-savvy sectors.

If snapping components in and out of the Ara endo is easy to do, this is probably the future of smartphone hardware. Any company with a good idea will be able to design and distribute components online providing customers with endless diversity. If you need specialized tools, a steady hand, and a good deal of patience, it will be a great tool for developers, but not much else.