project ara
April 17, 2014

Google Pieces Ara Modular Smartphone Together For Market

Enid Burns for - Your Universe Online

Google will make its modular phone, dubbed Project Ara, available in January 2015 for prices starting at $50, according to reports coming out of the Project Ara developer conference at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California earlier this week.

The modular smartphone project will allow consumers to upgrade aspects of the device, such as the camera or processor, Computer World reports. The modular upgrade design helps extend the life of a phone through its two-year contract, and possibly beyond that time period for some users.

When Google sold its Motorola Mobility unit to Lenovo, it held on to the Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) group. This is the group that works on Project Ara, Computer World's Mikael Ricknäs reports. That group is led by Paul Eremenko, The Guardian reports.

"Project Ara is Google’s attempt to make a mobile device where the major components, including the camera, speakers, GPS and other common features of modern smartphones, can be swapped out for new ones, mixing and matching modules to customize the phone to do what the user needs it to do," wrote Samuel Gibbs from The Guardian.

The modular phone is being called a Grey phone. While most people replace their handset every two years when their contract is up (or sooner), The Guardian says that the device is built to last up to five or six years, "allowing users to upgrade their phones steadily, buying cheap individual components like a better camera, improved Bluetooth or new 4G radio from an app store-like shop," wrote Gibbs.

Project Ara is focused on smartphones, however modules will be able to construct a number of devices, and might not require a mobile phone radio or Wi-Fi module, depending on the user's needs.

"'What is a phone' can be challenged when you can pick and choose pieces on our platform," David Fishman, an Ara team manager, told The Guardian. "It would still be able to run an operating system and do what you'd want to do without a connection."

"If it can be other things, we encourage that," said Eremenko, adding that Google intends Ara to be "ultimately a great smartphone first and foremost" allowing "developers to explore different branches" of technology.

"We want to be as helpful but as hands-off as possible for the development of the ecosystem," Eremenko concluded. Google is encouraging developers to come up with software and possibly hardware to create new modules for the Grey phone.

As with the Android platform, Google is hoping developers will help build the ecosystem for the modular phone. This is why Google hosted the developer conference to introduce the phone and discuss development for the platform. The conference included two tracks, demos as well as MDK input and feedback tracks, Computer World reports. The developer inspiration track held sessions on medical devices, 3D printing and RF modules.

The new concept of a modular smartphone has some skeptics. "While modular smartphones are interesting in theory, in the real world, they stand little chance of success, according to Francisco Jeronimo, research director for European mobile devices at IDC," wrote Ricknäs.

"It is a very long shot, because most vendors want to differentiate by designing and deciding what components to have in their handsets," Jeronimo said in the Computer World article.