When we first saw Phonebloks
, it started something of a firestorm on the Internet; and, when it turned out to actually be a genius bit of viral marketing from Motorola for its Project Ara
modular phone, we got genuinely excited because it had a big name behind it, which meant it was more likely to become real. Of course, we had to assume that Motorola would face competition, and ZTE is the first in the ring with its Eco-Mobius prototype.
Unfortunately, it doesn't seem like ZTE is actually planning to develop the product in any meaningful way. Instead, ZTE is really just showing off what it imagines a modular smartphone might look like, and how it might all come together. The Eco-Mobius shows how the "core" modules can all be swapped out, including the camera, CPU, GPU, RAM, and ROM. The idea is to reduce waste by allowing for individual pieces to be replaced rather than needing an entirely new phone.
So, it seems that while we haven't seen a prototype from Motorola, Project Ara is still the best option for eventually getting a modular smartphone. Motorola has already announced that it is gathering hardware partners
for the project; and, CEO Dennis Woodside has talked about
how the idea is to create open standards for the hardware, and eventually sell the customizable devices through the Moto Maker site.
*Update* While The Verge reported that ZTE isn't planning to develop the Eco-Mobius, Engadget is saying that ZTE has plans to release the device in two years. If that is true, it should be interesting to see if ZTE can beat out Motorola and offer a more compelling option for component manufacturers.