Google’s (in)famous modular smartphone, Project Ara finally breaks its year long silence at Google I/O 2016. The much awaited and longed-for modular phone is now a reality and a tangible product. You can pre-order a developer kit from the Ara website, while the consumer version might arrive in 2017.
If you’re unaware of Project Ara, it is Google’s ambitious plan to make a customizable modular smartphones, where-in you can swap and change modules on the back on the smartphone frame to get added functionality. Project Ara was first announced at I/O two years ago, but the company had gone mute since then to make the phone truly modular. The project team(formerly under Motorola) had to go over many variations and make certain sacrifices to deliver the product they showed off at the presentation today.
To make the product more consumer-friendly, the team had to make the device a lot less modular and reduce functionality provided using the modules. Don’t get disheartened though, the phone is in-fact still modular and fun to use. Earlier, the modular phone allowed you to swap and lock-in almost everything into the frame-as they call it- be it the display, processor, speaker, camera, RAM and more. But Google’s study showed that people don’t care about the specs inside the phone but the modules(features) provided with the device.
So, this Ara module brings with it a rigid frame with the display, processor, RAM and storage built into the frame. The frame packs in all the functionality of a high-end smartphone and contains six flexible spots to swap in the modules. Any module can be attached to any available slot and it will start functioning almost immediately. The module platform has been built from the ground up, adding a software on top of stock Android called – Greybus – that controls the instant connection, power efficiency and data transfer of the modules. As team Ara puts it, this will help prevent any mechanical failures on the consumer end.
Google has now standardized the modules and they now come in two specific sizes – 1×2 rectangles and 2×2 squares. Google is currently starting out with only a handful of modules like, speakers, camera modules with different sensors, a kickstand, an e-ink paper display, fingerprint sensor and a couple more. Google has also partnered with third-party manufacturers including, Samsung, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Panasonic, Toshiba , Harman and E Ink to work on secondary display modules.
The software Greybus is powerful and comes with a dedicated setting button of its own, on the side of the smartphone frame. You can use it to eject a module off the frame. Now you can also use voice commands like ‘Ok Google, eject the camera’ to swap out that module. This is most exciting smartphone to make a debut since the iPhone, and it’s here to stay.
It’s not just a smartphone, but a purely modular computing platform.
said Camargo during his presentation
Google will start shipping the developer kits by the end of 2016. Developers can currently visit the Ara website to pre-order the kit and use the core-technologies to make modules for the aforementioned modular smartphone. Google thinks this is the future of mobile computing and wants to build an open marketplace and community around the same.
Google I/O 2016 saw a plethora of new software, apps and releases that has got us so much excited for the future. Google also launched a commuter jacket in partnership with Levis today – dubbed Project Jacquard.