Google has a lot of secretive ‘projects’ under its wing, with which it hopes to revolutionize the digital world, but none has gained more attention than ‘Project Ara’. Inspired by the PhoneBlocks concept video, and the worked on by Motorola before that company’s acquisition by Google, the project involves the production of a ‘modular smartphone’. Such a device would be able to easily swap its components out, allowing for a completely customisable, and easily repairable mobile device.
The first Project Ara device is coming in January 2014
Now finally this system has a release date. Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) division has stated that they plan to release the first Project Ara device in January next year. Speaking at the Project Ara Developer Conference team leader, Paul Eremenko explained that this first device would also cost a mere $50.
The first phone however, is not designed with the mass market in mind. Rather, it is what Google is calling a ‘Grey Phone’: a purposely bland device intended as both a proof of concept, and also as platform for hardware OEM’s to develop new components or ‘modules’ for the device. In addition, the company hopes the bland aesthetic will prompt makers and artists to come up new and innovative design customisations, setting the device apart from those currently on the market.
However, to meet this ambitious launch schedule, Google has a lot of work yet to do. As the failed boot of a Project Ara device at the Google I/O developer conference showed, getting all these different components to work together is no easy task. Furthermore, the Android operating system is yet to be able to support devices with a large number of modular components, something which Google is presumably working very hard to change.
Should Google be successful however, Project Ara has the potential to completely revolutionize the mobile phone market. A truly modular mobile phone would remove the need for a consumer to buy a completely new phone each time they wanted an upgrade. Instead, they could buy individual components (such a faster processor or a higher resolution screen) and slowly upgrade their phone over time. This would have great environmental benefits, as it would cut down on e-waste, as well as creating new economic opportunities for OEMs to develop new and unique mobile device components.
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