Just a few months ago, there are many people out there who would have told you that Project Ara , Google's modular phone project, had gone completely silent and was most likely dead. In the wake of a website redesign, however, Ara was presented at 2016's Google I/O conference with a brand new attitude and a ton of new development to show for it. The nascent project had previously aimed to be the very last smartphone you would ever need; an Ara endoskeleton would be outfitted with absolutely nothing but a screen, leaving users to slot in the processor, RAM, camera, battery and just about everything else. The Ara prototype shown on the I/O stage was a bit different.
All of the core components needed for the Ara phone to run were in the endoskeleton, all neatly packed inside. Lead engineer Rafa Camargo even demonstrated as much by setting the phone down on a table on the stage and using Google Now voice commands to have the phone jettison its own camera module. The camera popped out and the crowd proceeded to lose their minds. After many previous shortcomings, Ara's hardware platform had finally reached full software and hardware integration. At least, it seemed that way, but there would be no way to know until the phone was released. With developers slated to start seeing their models before the end of the year and consumers to see their modular devices ready to order in 2017, it's clear that the phone is fairly close to being ready. Mostly, this is due to a paradigm shift; while basic components are built in, keeping Ara devices from being utterly future-proof, they are customizable for a user's specific needs.
Blaise Bertrand of ATAP put it the most succinctly; "We know that people are going to build crazy stuff, and that's OK,". With Ara being its own division now, reporting to Rick Osterloh, the potential is there for the concept to evolve, but for now, the main idea seems to be a phone on par with current flagship devices that users can customize utterly. While many users may want a super high-quality camera or multiple loud speakers, or even a huge array of batteries to give the phone battery life to rival dumb phones, some users may end up wanting a built-in keyboard, game controller or even medical supplies like a glucometer. A number of partners are already on board to create modules. As for the Ara concept of yesterday, Camargo addressed the idea; "We have the capabilities to do that, so things will evolve.", he said. While the first release may not be utterly future-proof, focusing instead on customization, the possibility is still there for the future.