Yezz is a smartphone company you may not know, but it made quite an impact just prior to Mobile World Congress by announcing it would display a range of modules designed for use with Google’s Project Ara smartphone. While we secretly dreamed of seeing a working prototype of the exciting device, what we actually got was a glimpse at the world of creativity and collaboration that’s being built around the concept of a make-it-yourself smartphone.
It was slightly disappointing to be presented with a very basic mock up of Project Ara, but it did give us an idea of the phone’s overall dimensions. It’s not going to be massive, and the body was perhaps around the same size as an iPhone 5, but with extra girth. Each primary component is slotted onto a skeletal frame, allowing you to completely customize the device.
The prototype’s modules included the processor, the screen, an NFC connection, Bluetooth, a front and rear camera, and the battery. The fit wasn’t great on the mockup we held, but it wasn’t entirely representative of the final version. Soon, we got into Yezz’s involvement with Project Ara. Approached by Google’s development team at CES at the beginning of the year, Yezz has been working furiously on it ever since.
A modular smartphone opens up such a massive creative opportunity, it would be a shame not to involve more people in it, so the company asked its employees to come up with some ideas for possible modules, and the sky was the limit provided it was theoretically possible in the space allowed. They ended up with a folder full of possible modules, more than 100 that ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous.
Looking through the concepts, it became obvious people had fun. Nothing was outrageous, but some of the ideas were definitely out-there. How about a candy dispensing module (quickly nicknamed the Yezz Pez by our Deputy Editor, Jeff Van Camp), or a Tamagotchi-style virtual pet? Or a metronome? If not, what about a smart pill box with built-in alerts, or most bizarrely, a miniature CB radio? There were plenty of sensible ideas too, including a massive array of sensors.
A few Yezz modules are already moving beyond the concept stage, and one was attached to the prototype: It’s a folio-style screen cover that flips round the back of the phone and magnetically attaches to the rear, revealing an e-paper display, just like we’ve seen on the Yotaphone. The same idea has also been adapted to replace the second screen with a solar panel to recharge the phone’s battery.
It’s not just inside the company that Yezz’s Project Ara modules are attracting attention. Other companies, some in the same local area as Yezz, have come forward looking to collaborate, opening up new opportunities, and a chance to build a relationship that perhaps wouldn’t have come about otherwise. It’s a fascinating and exciting alternative side to Project Ara, and a big plus for smaller companies like Yezz looking to make a larger impact.
Yezz wants to be a part of the Project Ara launch planned in Puerto Rico in the near future, and should all go according to plan, offer between 10 and 20 different components. It’ll be possible to build a Yezz Project Ara phone using only Yezz-branded modules, but because they’re all interchangeable, you don’t have to.
Oh, and if you thought Project Ara and Yezz’s modules were quirky, Google has a plan to sell Project Ara phones in Puerto Rico from food-truck style stores, after buyers configure the device on a dedicated app. We can’t wait.