Project Ara smartphone modules © Google
When we last saw Project Ara, a modular smartphone from Google that allows you to swap out different parts of the phone depending on what you want it to do, it was still very much a concept design. Bar a few tweets suggesting what we could expect there has been very little news as to when we’ll actually get our hands on one. All that has now changed - Google has confirmed that Ara is to go on general sale next year.
Announced at the Google I/O 2016 conference, the company said they would be releasing developer kits with a device and modules by the end of the year and expect the phone to go on general sale later in 2017.
The phone frame itself will contain a CPU, GPU, antennas, sensors, battery and display, but everything else will be attached through separate interchangeable modules, which use Greybus, newly developed software for android that will allow instantaneous connection of modules and data transfer at 11.9Gbps.
The idea behind Ara is to end the cycle of replacing smartphones every two years by giving owners the option to change only the parts that need an upgrade, such as adding extra microphone or speaker, fingerprint sensor or GPS tracker. The hope is that you will be able to keep the frame for up to five years, reducing the burden on manufacturers and the environment in the process.
It is not the first time we have seen a modular phone this year, the LG G5 was announced at MWC 2016, but unlike Project Ara it is restricted to its proprietary ‘friends’. Google on the other hand have opened up the Ara designs and APIs so that anybody will be able to develop new modules for the phone. These don’t even need to be particularly functional, although wired were less than impressed with the pillbox and style modules.
In an industry that hasn’t really produced any new phones that provide truly innovative design for some time, perhaps Google’s Project Ara will change the way we think about upgrades and focus more on personal functionality rather than glitzy headline features.