While many are still trying to wrap their heads around the Ara modular phone, and whether it will even work, it seems there’s already a competitor announcing its entrance into this market called Vsenn, which is a new company that was co-founded by a former Nokia Android X program manager.
Unlike Project Ara, it seems Vsenn’s platform supports only three types of modules: camera, battery and processor/RAM. The company promises to use only the best and fastest hardware components in its modules. By the looks of it, the modules won’t be made by third-party manufacturers, but by Vsenn itself.
One interesting feature of this new platform is that it will run vanilla Android, which will be updated for four years. That’s not just more than double what most Android OEMs promise for their highest-end devices, but also more than what Apple promises for its own devices (three years).
On its site, Vsenn says that it will also provide "triple layer encryption." The company will offer free VPN and secure cloud access, and it will protect users’ data integrity and privacy. There aren’t any other details about how any of this will actually work, though.
The company also says that the owners of these devices will be able to customize their looks with a "variety of offers" that are durable and stylish.
The modular phone seems like a great idea in theory. New product categories usually start by being highly integrated and proprietary, while later they become more modularized, to increase customization, lower prices, and expand the market to new customers.
In the modular phone’s case, there will some drawbacks, as well. The phones may look a little bulkier, or not as solid, and there may be a latency increase as the separated components communicate with each other.
These drawbacks may be overcome by the advantages and the freedom customers could get with a modular phone, though, such as the ability to pick and choose whichever component the user thinks is best for his or her phone.
Ultimately, what will make or break this idea will be how well it can be executed and how much support it will get from third-party component makers. This is why Ara may be in a much better position than Vsenn, because it has the backing of a large company with nearly limitless resources, as well as many more partners from the Android ecosystem.
We still don’t know too much about Vsenn and its plans yet, though. It’s possible this team saw something that the Ara team may have missed and could be critical for their modular phone’s success. We’ll see which has more appeal once they are both shipping on the market.
Tom's Hardware has reached out to Vsenn for more details, and we'll update the story as they arrive.
Update, 9:10am PST November 7: Vsenn replied that it intends to release the modular phone in Q1/early Q2 next year, and that the price of the device will actually be lower than most of the current flagships from Samsung, LG or Sony. The company will offer more information about the phone next week.
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I am afraid that this also does give companies opportunities to take advantage of customers and get them to purchase unnecessary upgrades. Older people are reluctant a lot of the time to upgrade their entire phone, so the idea of offering them a newer module that might not be much better than the current one(s) may feel like it's a wise decision.
Also I'm in love with the concept, but my M8's unibody design is so wonderful and sleek that I wouldn't give it up for anything. Now considering the latency presented by components not being together and all communicating over a bus is an issue. I would say just adapt a modern standard from the PC and mobilize it. PCI-E on phones anybody?