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Start-up develops add-on modules for smartphones

Posted: 15 Jun 2015     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Nexpaq  Google  smartphone  module  Project Ara 

Even before Google's Project Ara was unveiled, Nexpaq's CEO & co-founder Lech Alexander Murawski and his partners had thought of developing specially developed add-on modules for smartphones. This idea led them at the beginning of 2013 to apply for several patents on modular smartphone cases enabling cross-platform swappable functionalities.

Last May, Nexpaq's Kickstarter campaign consolidated the founders' idea as they collected $279,758, well over five times their initial $50,000 goal to put their modular smartphone cases into production.

EETimes Europe caught up with Murawski to get his views on the future of modular smartphones and how he plans to develop his company.

Add-on modules for smartphones

"Back in 2012, our first intention was to serve the B2B market (think railway maintenance, logistics, sales) with specialised phones back-plates that would extend any commercial phone into dedicated tools," explained Murawski, "then at the beginning of 2013, we came up with the idea of the whole modular smartphone case and applied patents for it."

So you can imagine the company's surprise when the Ara project was announced.

"We like Google's Ara project, they picked up very interesting ideas such as the permanent magnets to hold the modules in place and using a new MIPI interface (MIPI UniPort-M) to interconnect the modules" Murawski said, seeing the project's development as yet another indicator that modularity is definitely the way to mass customisation.

As for any possible technology overlaps or patent infringements between Ara and Nexpaq, Murawski puts things straight: "We have not found patents concerning Google Ara but it could be that some are being reviewed, so we would have to wait a year or so before we can access those, and then maybe get in touch with Google."

But apart from the modularity aspect, Nexpaq does things very differently.

"I believe there is room for both concepts, but Google Ara is going in the very opposite direction to what happened to the PC industry over the last 20 years. Initially, modularity only existed at the personal computer (PC) level, you could change your mother board, add a graphic card, add a sound card, plug-in some peripherals, then all these components got shrunk and optimized into today's smartphones," noted Murawski.

"But by splitting the smartphone into different modules, they are adding connectors and interfaces and adding complexity, so the Ara modular smartphone could never be as optimized as today's commercial smartphones."

"In fact, I can't see myself in this Ara ecosystem, with many different chipset vendors having to figure out the efficient bridging between their modules and try to have an overall optimized product. Instead we start from already optimised commercial smartphones and build our hardware apps on top of them, into our modular smartphone cases."

Murawski told us that at one of the early Ara developer conferences, he had met several developers willing to swap their bulky Ara kits for a Nexpaq developer kit.

"We are doing the same as Apple did several years ago by providing an open infrastructure for millions of developers to build apps," continued Murawski.

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