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Android Cellphones Handhelds Linux

Google, Linaro Develop Custom Android Edition For Project Ara 46

Posted by timothy
from the things-you-want-to-see-folded-in dept.
rtoz writes with this excerpt from an IDG story about the creation of an Android fork made just for Google's modular cell-phone project : A special edition of Android had to be created for the unique customizable design of Project Ara, said George Grey, CEO of Linaro. ... Android can already plug and play SD cards. But Grey said additional OS functionality is needed for storage, cameras and other modules that are typically inside smartphones, but can now be externally added to Project Ara. A lot of work is also being done on UniPro transport drivers, which connect modules and components in Project Ara. UniPro protocol drivers in Android will function much like the USB protocol, where modules will be recognized based on different driver "classes," such as those for networking, sensor, imaging, input and others. Some attachable parts may not be recognized by Android. For those parts, separate drivers need to be developed by module makers through emulators. "That will be need to be done in a secure system so the device can't do damage to the system," Grey said. Project Ara is a very disruptive concept, and it turns around conventional thinking on how to build phones, Grey said.
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Google, Linaro Develop Custom Android Edition For Project Ara

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  • by ganjadude (952775) on Wednesday July 30, 2014 @08:41PM (#47571531) Homepage
    Was watching this from the time it was just a theory and renderings and I love the idea, why dish out hundreds for an entire new phone when all you want is more storage? Or a better camera? I would love to upgrade individual parts a la desktop computers, and it has a real shot of becoming a reality with backing by any of the big guys
    • by RyuuzakiTetsuya (195424) <{taiki} {at} {cox.net}> on Wednesday July 30, 2014 @09:03PM (#47571623)

      I think this kind of thinking is pretty detrimental to mobile.

      When you put a "better" camera on, will it have new optics? Will it jut out of the case like a sore thumb? What about new SoCs? Will heat and battery become problems?

      I'm pretty skeptical. I think mobile has been a huge hit because of the trend away from desktop modes of thinking. Holistic integrated things are more than the sums of their parts than generic gizmos that are just a random slathering of parts.

      Take for example the iPhone 5s. The finger print sensor has been amazing, but it wouldn't work with out the A7's secure enclave. To do that in Ara you'd have to ship a replacement button or have a sensor on the module itself.

      • by ArcadeMan (2766669) on Wednesday July 30, 2014 @09:29PM (#47571725)

        Just think different a little bit. Integrate the secure enclave into the button/sensor module.

        • by tlhIngan (30335)

          Just think different a little bit. Integrate the secure enclave into the button/sensor module.

          So you're going to basically give the yes/no decision to the module? Well know, I'm going to make a fake module that breaks the fingerprint security by always saying "Yes, valid fingerprint!"

          Oh, now you're going to have to add tons of security to it - perhaps when I plug in, I need to negotiate a set of keys with the main processor? Yes, I hope your Ara modules have figured that out, because if they haven't, well n

        • Just think different a little bit. Integrate the secure enclave into the button/sensor module.

          I don't think that would work.

          I'm pretty sure the secure enclave has authorization hooks to the hardware decryption on the CPU. Even if you moved the hardware encryption/decryption to the thumbprint reader, this brings up another problem with Ara... If you change the CPU or your hardware encryption module, do you loose your data if it was encrypted with the old key?

      • by Anonymous Coward

        While it has its disadvantages, a more modular design means more companies can compete directly. Instead of buying CPU C0 because it's what phone P0 comes with and you prefer P0's cam, with a modular design you can have both P0's cam and P1's superior CPU. That means C0 will face harsher competition and will have to beat C1 directly, be it on price, power or processing power, instead of managing to sell just because they got a deal with the right manufacturer. That said, I doubt it will work. Many phones do

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I'm looking at this from a different perspective. If I have a "mobile" base that I can build off I have an extremely versatile micro pc that I can custom build to fit a purpose. It may be too clunky to be your daily driver phone replacement - but ara screams to be the base of things like media centers, nas boxes, remote camera setups - a million embedded systems I can't even think of.

        I see this as a way for android to make the jump to desktop OS replacement

      • The thing that makes cellphones so expensive is the phone part. Why does a Nexus 7 cost less than a Nexus 5? I think it has something to do with all the (legitimate?) patents involved in making a smartphone a phone. The irony of it all, is that (for me, at least), the phone function is the one I use the least. But whenever you want a new 'personal communicator', you end up needing to buy a new cellphone, when you really don't need to upgrade the 'make a phone call' functionality. So, why not pay for th

    • by ArcadeMan (2766669) on Wednesday July 30, 2014 @09:03PM (#47571625)

      If this catches on, I hope we'll see bigger-than-Ara but still compatible modules based on the same A-size-paper-style specifications for bigger devices such as tablets and laptops. Buy a new camera, put it on your cellphone, put your old cellphone camera on your laptop and sell your old laptop camera.

      • by MrDoh! (71235)
        Think that's exactly it, yes, this IS Ara only at the moment, but when they were asked this at the dev conference, there was much flirting of eyes and 'we're only doing THIS for now' comments. But for phones, tablets, cameras, home security systems, media players, car units, plug in what you want, when you want. This concept isn't anything new in PC tech, with so many busses/drivers/external devices, it's known what's needed. This is a uber low power/hopefully incredibly flexible, driverless (to a point)
        • by tlhIngan (30335)

          This concept isn't anything new in PC tech, with so many busses/drivers/external devices, it's known what's needed. This is a uber low power/hopefully incredibly flexible, driverless (to a point) something new.

          Yeah, and the support costs would be oh-so-fun.

          Desktop PCs already have enough incompatibility issues where updating the BIOS can break your Ethernet or the USB driver installed by default conflicts with your graphics card.

          Or even odder ones, like I have a PC (built in 2013, Intel Haswell 4770K, etc)

    • by PapayaSF (721268)

      I said it last month [slashdot.org], but will say it again:

      Size matters. Desktop PCs are easy to make modular (unless you want an iMac). Laptops are harder, and besides removable batteries, only a few had any modular components (like a DVD drive swappable for an extra battery). Phones are much more space-constrained. Every millimeter counts, and modularity takes up quite a bit of space at that scale, because each part needs to be enclosed, securely attach to the others, etc.

      In short, a modular phone is possible, but the t

    • why dish out hundreds for an entire new phone when all you want is more storage?

      The funny thing is that Google is the one who took out the sdcard slot from their phones.

      • by ganjadude (952775)
        While true, the reason was to keep the cost reasoable and not pay licensing. The iphone never had an sd card to begin.with and.other android phones still have them. Choice is wonderful right?
  • by eclectro (227083)

    I heard the phrase "We are making a supply chain for EPMs" near the end of the video (5:33)

    What he meant was Electro-Permanent Magnets described here. [sparkfun.com] Which could have been the reason why the phone had problems booting in the video.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Better than pluggable-into-the-phone, this lets you start using your apps on external, connected devices; eg:

    How would you like to take the software functionalilty of Photaf Pro and combine it with your Canon T4i?
    (Or at least have the phone act as an SD card that keeps the GPS data intact instead of rigging to a garmin or something)...

    Now you can use external sensors in apps that only "know" about the internal stuff...

  • Just like modular laptops did? That didn't seem to have gone anywhere.
  • by JanneM (7445) on Wednesday July 30, 2014 @09:48PM (#47571821) Homepage

    I like the idea in principle. I do think it's really useful to customize a few specific parts - one person might want a high-performance (and large, and expensive)) camera module both front anb back; another prefers just a minimal camera and gets a larger battery instead; a third has a job where cameras are banned and opts to get none at all. A fingerprint reader, a headphone jack, or an SD card slot are other options people may want to add or skip.

    But I do not think upgradeable phones are meaningful. After 2-3 years with a phone, it's pretty beat up. Screen is scratched and dimming, the case is scuffed and creaky, buttons don't quite work, connectors are getting glitchy, the battery is dying and both CPU and memory are getting old. I'd want to upgrade all of it - I want a new phone, not throw money at the old one.

    • First, let me say I think this will have a cult following like the hackable versions of the WRT54, I don't think MOST people want it. That said, I've never experienced this:

      > it's pretty beat up. Screen is scratched and dimming, the case is scuffed and creaky, buttons don't quite work, connectors are getting glitchy, the battery is dying and both CPU and memory are getting old.

      I've experienced each one of those, but I don't think more than one ever.
      My last phone, I bricked the internal storage when it

    • Maybe YOUR phones are, but mine are not. 3 years and it only has 1 slight scratch on the frame. PS: I don't use a screen protector or a case. I just take good care of my things.
  • The only part I care about is being able to take the interchangeable radio/baseband unit out of model A on carrier X and put it in model B and continue my service on X with them none the wiser, or even remove the radio entirely and operate without cellular features. Maybe even swap in a part97 radio instead. Ok, that's asking for the moon, but I can dream.
  • This is going to be a pain when I'm trying to convince the bosses that we should add a feature to an Android app. For example, right now it's easy to say we should add a feature that uses a camera, every phone has a camera. But if I want to add a feature that has, for example, a fingerprint reader attachment, only X% of users are going to have this attachment. It makes it a harder sell.
  • This concept was attempted by an Israeli company way back in 2007, it didn't do well in the markets...
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M... [wikipedia.org]

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