Build your own phone with Motorola's new modules

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Smartphone users are notorious for their willingness to change their phone for the latest model, like consumerist magpies seduced by the latest shiny piece of tech. A new project from Motorola at least attempts to address the colossal wastage and environmental damage caused by the Western urge to upgrade.

The Google-owned phone company is working on Project Ara, which will allows users to add extras to a basic phone module and customise their own smartphones. It stems from an idea by Dutch designer Dave Hakkens, who created Phonebloks, a concept for modular phones.

Like anything backed by Google, it’s a potential money-spinner, but it may also have a beneficial impact for global resources. Around 1.5 billion phones are discarded annually. Phones contain toxic elements like lead, mercury and chlorine. Discarded handsets are often shipped off to developing countries to be picked over for valuable components, exposing lowly-paid workers to hazardous chemicals.

Motorola’s project might at least encourage users to keep phones for longer, upgrading them component by component rather than wholesale. "We want to do for hardware what the Android platform has done for software - create a vibrant, third-party developer ecosystem," Motorola suggested in a blog post."To give you the power to decide what your phone does, how it looks, where and what it's made of, how much it costs and how long you'll keep it."

The obvious market might seem to be conscientious consumers, although that might be a tiny constituency. The hipsters who championed Apple for decades have not deserted the company despite alarming revelations about its tax policies and the conditions under which its products are manufactured.

One analyst, Ben Wood, of CCS Insight, was sceptical about the commercial scope of Motorola’s phone modules. "Creating a Lego-like phone seems on the face of it like a great idea but the commercial realities of delivering such a device are challenging," he told the BBC. "Consumers want small, attractive devices and a modular design makes this extremely difficult."

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