When rainbow colors seemed to be Apple’s (AAPL) big idea for its fifth-generation iPhone, some tech observers suggested smartphone innovation had hit a wall. Then Dutch designer Dave Hakkens posted a YouTube video of his prototype of a modular phone with components that snap together like Legos (16.7 million-plus views). The beauty of the concept, which he calls Phonebloks, is that it allows for total customization. A photo buff can select a higher-resolution camera, while an app hog can add memory.
Apparently, Hakkens isn’t the only one to think of this. In a blog post dated Oct. 28, Motorola—now owned by Google (GOOG)—announced that it has spent more than a year on a nearly identical product, dubbed Ara. Consumers, the blog says, should be accorded “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.” In a move that recalls the early days of computers, when collaboration trumped competition, Motorola announced it was teaming with Hakkens on the project.