One of the most exciting projects that is scheduled to come to fruition later this year is Project Ara, Google’s plan to make smartphones modular. The idea behind Project Ara stems from giving customers the choice of components to suit their particular taste, and whilst some manufacturers such as Samsung appear to be trying to design a smartphone for every taste, Project Ara takes things a stage further. With an Ara smartphone, each core component is readily interchangeable – this means the System-on-Chip (the processor), the storage, screen, camera, auxiliary radios and battery. Whilst on the face of it, this means that a customer can tailor a smartphone to suit his or her tastes, the customization of the Ara smartphone could go deeper. Let’s suppose you were interested in photography and you wanted a smartphone with a decent enough camera but also a light meter, so that you could accurately gauge shots? With a Project Ara smartphone, you would be able to carry multiple camera modules with you and, just like a “proper” camera, replace the camera module to suit the conditions. Or swap out the camera module and replace with a light meter attachment. Project Ara takes the idea of fragmentation within the Android world and explores every nook and cranny.
There may be other benefits to the Project Ara ideology, too. It may mean that manufacturers with world class components in some respects, but have otherwise struggled to sell devices – may find a new home as a specialist camera module seller. Project Ara may also reduce the impact of the annual product release cycle, which essentially means that if a customer has an existing handset but wants a feature made available with a new processor, he or she must wait for their chosen brand to release a device based around the new chipset. With Ara, when the customer wishes to upgrade the processor module, it is simply a case of buying a new module to slide into place. We also expect to see a healthy marketplace for secondhand Ara modules; this should reduce the cost of upgrading individual modules as the old one should have some resale value.
The prototype itself consists of a frame where modules may be slid into place. Google engineer Rada Camargo demonstrated putting together a Google Project Ara smartphone on stage, powered it up, added a camera module and took a picture of the audience. It’s the first time that a Project Ara device has been put together in front of a live audience (as a functional device) and by all accounts, it was quite the success. Ara is due to be piloted in August this year and will hopefully be ready for the primary market early in 2016. Meanwhile, check out the images of the demo below: