Google Project Ara – The Modular SmartPhone

Whichever smartphone we choose to buy and end up buying, we always like the features on our friend’s new device. What if we could change our phone on a daily basis as we would do with our dress? Looks like a scene from a movie? Not anymore. Thanks, Google Ara, your smartphone is completely customisable.

And yes, customisable not in terms of software or settings. What if we say you can change your phone’s looks and hardware almost daily? That is something made possible by Google Project Ara. Seems unbelievable? Read on to know more.

What is Google Ara?

Google Ara is the modular smartphone initiative by Google. The project was launched in 2013. It derives its name Ara from Ara Knaian who was the earliest instigator of the concept.

It was a part of the Google ATAP – Advanced Technology and Projects group when it was launched. Later on, it has been given its own separate department. That could be an indication of the importance Google has been paying to the project.

The modular smartphone is a concept that involves building your own smartphone by using separate components. The components are capable of being interconnected. The concept is bound to bring a high level of flexibility in the smartphone segment.

How does the concept work?

The Google Ara project conceptualises the main frame on which you can fit in different components as per your needs and preferences. The current model of the main frame will support up to six components. These components are of plug and play nature.

These detachable components are called Modules. The camera, speakers, and displays are some of such modules envisaged in the project Ara. Such a usage of specific modules as per the specific needs opens up a huge possibility as far as the applications of a mobile phone are concerned.

Google Project Ara

As far as the construction is concerned, Project Ara has progressed too. Initial project had the magnetised connectivity between the different modules, whereas it has now changed to “durable latches and connectors” to borrow Google’s words.

Though the initial project envisaged customising everything in a phone. Now Google has simplified the concept for better functionality. The newer mainframes will not let you swap certain core components. These core components include a processor, memory or storage components. Google’s contention for this change is that it will encourage bringing more innovation in the modules.

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The Modules

The modules can be easily be removed and added even when the phone is in a powered on status. You will have customised app with which you can eject the module. It is something equivalent to ejecting out a USB device. The concept envisages a button that can provide you a complete overview of all the attached modules and control them. Latest iterations have also incorporated voice commands to eject a module.

The modules are controlled by a software called GreyBus. Google states that the software is capable of supporting “instantaneous connections, power efficiency and data-transfer rates of up to 11.9 Gbps”.

Project Ara Smartphone

Some of the modules used in this modular design under Project Ara include

Camera This can be one of the most personalised modules in the modular device. Google has released videos showing off different versions of the camera module. If you are a born photographer, this is definitely something you would invest on.

Secondary screens This is a component that can be fitted on the rear side of your device. It may be used to provide additional information like notifications or weather info. Maybe, it is comparable to the Edge display observed in Samsung flagships.

Speakers This is possibly the one for the music lovers. There are some modular devices with three speakers as well.

Those were some basic modules that we have discussed here. A recent video from Google has shown a few modules that can be used with a modular smartphone under project Ara. Google has already teamed up with a few hardware manufacturers Panasonic, E-link, Sony Pictures and Samsung among others. They will build new hardware in accordance with the standards set by Google.

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Project abandoned?

Well, the project has been launched in 2013. The concept has been under development since then. The modular design could not take off as it expected itself to.

The initial project Ara phone was presumed to be a complete customisable phone with each and every component that can be removed and added as the case may be. It was something comparable to how you would build a assembled PC. The concept has changed now. The new Ara device will have some of the core components built in within the frame. Google will not let you swap those components as stated earlier in this article.

As Rafa Camargo, the lead engineer on Project Ara says, “When we did our user studies, what we found is that most users don’t care about modularizing the core functions”. So, the new Project Ara phone will come with a mix and match smartphone that you can customise, instead of building a new phone in a completely new avatar.

Google I/O 2016 has drawn a new dawn on the possibility of reviving the new Project Ara. It has been stated that the new developer version will be launched later this year.

The commercial launch was expected to happen in 2017. However, only prototypes have been appearing right now. We do not expect the commercial launch so soon. We can only keep our fingers crossed till the actual announcement is made by Google about the exact commercial launch.

However, as of Sept 2016 Google stated that the Project Google has been cancelled. The project has been abandoned in view of developing its hardware products like Chromebooks and Nexus devices. Google has not planned about the exact nature of the project. There are indications of it being continued through licensing. The major reasons for the cancellation of the project could be because the project could not live up to the hype created around the Project Ara.

What could be the cost involved in an Ara device?

There are no clear words on the exact nature of costing involved in an Ara smartphone. When the project was initially launched, Google assumed the basic device to cost around $50 to $100. The modules were estimated to cost anywhere between $50 to $500 based on the functionality and the manufacturer.

With the current change in the scenario where the plan has been thoroughly revised, the situation might have had a complete changeover. There have been no clear indications on the exact pricing of the product, or the modules.

In Conclusion

Having gone through all the details of the project Ara, we assume we may need to wait for the final outcome. It is possible that the project may not see the light of the day as it has been seeing a very slower growth. Technology does need a faster development approach and it may not fit well it moves ahead at such a slower pace as it has been doing now. Some recent rumours indicate that the project has totally been abandoned. Let us just hope that the unique concept that aims at making our devices more flexible will finally be a reality. Till a confirmed update comes from Google, that is exactly what we can hope for.

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  1. Nick October 1, 2016