IL-amendGoogle’s plan to build a modular cellphone with interchangeable parts, known as Project Ara, has been suspended indefinitely. While Google may not release a device, there are rumors of Google working with partners through licensing agreements to bring the technology to market.

Project Ara could potentially set the groundwork to more sustainable device design. Modular design is an overall positive development for building a stronger hardware ecosystem, but there are still roadblocks along the way. Bryan Ma, vice president of devices research at IDC, explains these challenges.

“While the idea of reducing electronic waste by using modularly upgradable phones was a noble cause, it would have had to swim upstream against the fast phone upgrade cycles seen in the smartphone market, where vendors like Apple and Samsung keep dangling new flashy goodies each year,” Ma said.

While there are many concepts being proposed in the area of product design that have potential to significantly reduce the environmental footprint of electronics, the reality of the market is consumers will buy products based on performance and cost.

If the environmentally preferred product will not provide superior or at least comparable performance at a comparable cost, the design concept is destined to fail. It is not that we don’t know how to design more environmentally friendly products, it is just that in many cases, these products are not seen as superior to less environmentally friendly products that exist in the market.