Google’s new plan to sell people customizable smartphones with replaceable components is fascinating, but it’s still plain old retail. The part of the process that’s really interesting is what happens after the initial sale.

In planning a pilot program for a retail rollout of the Ara modular smartphones, Googler Roshni Srinivasan has come to understand that the devices’ highly adaptable nature could seriously change up the rate at which people buy new smartphones. And that’d certainly be the case with the “modules” that can be slipped in to the frame of the Ara phones, Srinivasan explained today at a developer conference on the Google campus.

“We’ve speculated about the development of a secondary market for this,” Srinivasan said.

It’s easy to imagine: Consumers might want to upgrade the batteries, storage, or processors on their Ara phones. They could give unwanted modules to friends or exchange them with one another — just like trading baseball cards. Or, more interestingly, they could try to get some money for the gear.

Because Ara phones haven’t come out yet, it’s hard to know what consumers will do with the little Ara modules they no longer want. Srinivasan suggests users might want to limit their environmental footprint by recycling the modules, which could present a complex problem.

These sorts of questions can all come up, Srinivasan said, when you introduce a platform, just as they did following the creation of Apple’s App Store, when an entire ecosystem emerged. But at least Google is giving people a heads up of what could happen.

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