How Google’s Project Ara Will Open-up Innovation In Semiconductors

May 06, 2014, anysilicon

This is a guest post by Arrow Devices, that provides high-quality Design & Verification products and services for ASIC/SOC. 

Google’s Project Ara will change the end user experience significantly. The question is, how will this technological disruption affect us all in the semiconductor industry? Read on to find out…

Google’s Project Ara will modularize phones, making them more like pieces of Lego that you can choose and assemble together. Google will provide the structural framework that holds these modules together. The frame will also include the switch to interconnect all the modules on the phone.

There will be far and wide implications of this “Lego-like” phone on users. Enthusiasts and early adopters in each professional field, will use this opportunity to build their own customized phones. Then will come the followers who will adopt and popularize the models created by the enthusiasts. Imagine this – a tech savvy heart surgeon will one day assemble a phone with modules that help him detect heart problems – he may attach a compact ECG monitor or a highly sensitive pulse rate sensor. Other surgeons would then follow him and assemble similar phones. The same story could repeat with biking enthusiasts, journalists, business consultants…the list can go on.


It is clear from the above discussion on how the end user gets impacted. But what about the semiconductor industry? What does this new generation of technology mean for us?

Increase in MIPI adoption:

Project Ara uses MIPI UniPro Protocol stack and MIPI M-PHY physical layer for interconnecting the modules on its platform.  This seems to be the right choice of technology. MIPI UniPro is a scalable, multi-stream, reliable and low latency protocol for data communication. MIPI M-PHY is the low power and high performance physical layer. These advantages make a low power, high performance and modular architecture possible. With the increase in adoption of Google’s Project Ara, the demand for these interface technologies and allied specifications (such as JEDEC UFS, MIPI CSI-3, MIPI DSI-2) will increase.

Opening up of consumer market to component manufacturers:

Currently smart phones are highly integrated devices. Component manufacturers typically provide their technologies to system integrators, and not to the end consumer. With Google’s Project Ara, they will now have the opportunity to sell directly to end users.  Imagine camera companies like Canon, memory manufacturers like Sandisk, GPU providers like NVidia directly reaching the end user with their specialized mobile components. The user will be able to now build his/her own phone – imagine a phone with an Nvidia GPU, Bose Speakers, Creative Soundblast Audio Driver and a Canon camera!

Enabling innovation through “hardware apps”:

Smartphones and software application stores have revolutionized the software industry. They have enabled software developers to develop highly innovative applications and reach customers directly. Currently, the hardware world remains unaffected by this revolution. It is not possible to deploy any serious additional hardware with the current mobile designs since they are closed platforms. Google’s Project Ara opens up the possibility for startups to start building some innovative hardware solutions for end users. This may well lead to a hardware apps store as well. Since there would be thousands of components, a hardware apps store would be needed. This could be an Amazon equivalent where people can build their phone online – browse for phone components, check for inter component compatibility and see resultant overall price, weight and size.

If Google’s Project Ara succeeds, will make the smartphone industry a free world like the personal computer (PC) once was.  Apart from providing choice and flexibility to end users, it will increase the pace of innovation – leading to a far more vibrant semiconductor eco–system.

What do you think about Google Project Ara’s impact on the semiconductor eco-system? Let us know in the comments below!

Check out a short video on Google’s Project Ara here.

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