What is Project Ara?
Project Ara is Google’s modular phone. Thanks to Project Ara, users will be able to build a customized phone with everything (and only) what they want.
Project Ara lets users fully personalize their smartphones, creating a modular hardware ecosystem tailored to their functional and aesthetic preferences. For example, you will be able to create your own smartphone with a physical keyboard, the best camera, a specific detector, a module to improve the Wi-Fi signal and even place the USB port wherever you want.
Although Project Ara lives in Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) group, it’s not a Nexus phone at all. Ara devices will run Android OS, but for now they are just in development and not an official Android or Nexus product.
How will Ara modular phones work?
What Google will provide is a basic, electronic endoskeleton, which will be the structural frame and data backbone of the device. This skeleton will have a lot of connections where the user can add “modules”, the building blocks that interact to create a full device and that make up the majority of the phone’s functionality and features. Each module can easily get inserted and removed from the skeleton by sliding it through a magnetic system. You can change them at any time, even without needing to shut down the device. In addition, modules will have user-replaceable covers or “shells,” which provide a creative canvas to make your phone physically look exactly as you desire.
The standard skeleton will be a smartphone without modules, and with several magnetic chips on the backside and two on the front side. On these chips, you can insert all the modules you want. Three different modular bases are expected, consisting of 10, 18 and 28 magnetic slots on the backside, respectively.
For now, the existing modules include just the conventional ones: screen, speaker, headphones, camera, 3G, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, MicroUSB, battery and processor, but developers can create any kind of module they wish.
Project Ara is also developing APIs that will let developers and artists create new ways for users to aesthetically customize their devices with shells, and the Phone Maker API will allow developers to help users create functionally customized devices with just a few clicks. Developers can visit projectara.com/mdk to download the Module Developers Kit (MDK) and apply for developer hardware to make creating an Ara module easier.
When will Ara smartphones be available?
It seems that the moment of modular phones is not coming soon. A Project Ara smartphone was introduced at the MWC 2015 in Barcelona earlier this year, and a market pilot was supposed to be made in Puerto Rico in 2015.
But Google expected to have between 20 and 30 available modules for the pilot program in Puerto Rico, and that hasn’t happened yet. As a result, they have postponed the market pilot until 2016, and they are finally going to make it somewhere in the USA.
So obviously, Project Ara is still not available for purchase and there’s not a market launch date. As for pricing, it’s too early to tell, but Project Ara’s aim is to set a basic Ara device at the $50-100 range. Of course, this is only the price of the components (the “skeleton”), but the final cost will depend on the modules you choose. Customers will also be able to buy a complete Ara phone and all the additional modules they wish through the Ara Module Marketplace, which should work as a current app store.
Project Aramodular phones can be a very good choice for people who don’t look for all the astounding features of an iPhone or a Samsung Galaxy; for users who just want a phone with, let’s say, a physical keyboard, a standard screen and a good camera; for customers who don’t really care about having the biggest RAM capacity or all those useless native apps in their last-generation smartphones. And for people who don’t care if the device is a bit heavier and bulky.
Maybe modular phones are the only way to fight against the Android/Apple standards and consumerism, the only way to have a functional smartphone with all the good things a handset can offer and put apart everything else you don’t need. Of course, Project Ara won’t probably be the first option for users who buy the latest Nexus, Samsung or iPhone models as soon as they are released: Project Ara is more directed to users who look for a practical and fully-customized phone, even if it’s not a “top” one.
On the disadvantages side, we find that the modules could easily detach from the device when you put it into your pocket, and that the full handset will possibly be heavier and thicker. And of course, Project Ara can be a big nuisance for phone makers, because Ara devices’ cycle of life will be longer since you’ll have the chance to change just a specific component when it’s broken or obsolete, without having to buy a full new device.