Google Project Ara: A Modular Smartphone Ahead of its Time

Speculations of the start of Project Ara brewed around the close of 2014. This smartphone was to be the first of its kind, but sadly, Google had to put the project to an end. Google confirmed this in September 2016, though they already had manufactured a few pieces of the product and were close to launching it.

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The Ara smartphone contains all the functionality of a smartphone plus six flexible slots that can be easily swapped.

These modules fit neatly into the frame allowing for upgrades on different parts like the cameras and battery innovation and style according to the user’s preference. Its customizability and versatility is unlike any phone before, and modular smartphones are a new game in the market. Ara is powered by Android’s new software Greybus, supporting instantaneous connections, efficient power saving, and lightning-fast data transfer rates.

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The complete 6-pieced Project Ara smartphone.

 

This project captured many tech watchers. The idea of a slick prototype with the possibility of upgrading individual phone components for particular applications rabbled their minds as the latest, coolest innovation in the tech world aside from virtual reality.

The project was spearheaded by Motorola while the company was still owned by Google, before being sold to Lenovo. As the two companies diverged in opinion on where to take Project Ara, Motorola shifted to focusing on their Moto Mods project. Stephen McDonnell, Senior Manager for the Moto Mods Ecosystem, led the dropping of the project and said, “[Google] didn’t really think about the consumer at all. Their whole idea was based around technology, what can you do but not what the customer wants.”

The project was doomed from the get-go. Modular smart phones suffer from a number of problems that could mean it’s still too early for their introduction to the mass market.

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Modular phones require each component to be housed alone with their individual interface elements, while regular phones have all their components in one housing. This is a big challenge as the modular phone will be bulky and expensive, limiting storage, battery capacity, and features that regular phones can have with their extra space. Having being a Google device, the obvious operating systems would be Android or Google OS, but Android has always been about open source. A modular phone would have made Android even more fragmented because of the many parts with different functions – their biggest flaw would be the lack of appeal to the masses with the over-customizability for consumers.

 

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Various components of Ara.

 

The Ara smartphone was the biggest must-have for the majority of tech-watchers who were looking forward to the release of the first modular smartphone. It would have been a big achievement in the innovation and technology sector. Its biggest weakest may have been the lack of consumer interest over developer interest, and at the end, Google cut the project after re-evaluating pros and cons of the project’s potential profit.

For those who strongly desired to use the modular phone, don’t lose hope just yet; the technology developed by Google’s Ara smartphone may live on in licensed third-party products. There is still much more to come and excite technology users for 2017.

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