Its been a few days since Google I/O 2016, and there’s a lot of new tech news announced. One of the things that interested me the most are the updates from Google’s ambitious modular smartphone project called Project ARA.
Originally called Phoneblocks, for those unfamiliar, Project ARA is the development of a smartphone with interchangeable parts or modules, the result being a fully customizable device which gives users the power to choose which modules to add depending on the individual preference, or easily swap modules for upgrades or repair in case needed.
Say you are a music lover, and you want a phone with powerful speakers, but not much on other this; ARA, the modular smartphone, will let you do this by adding several speaker modules to the phone while giving the option to remove those not needed like say, a camera module for instance.
The ARA Smartphone with several speaker modules installed, as shown in the new video from Google I/O this 2016. Image Source: YouTube
Oddly enough, the design of the phone is quite similar with the UI of Windows Phone OS, which also consists of the same, customizable blocks, but this time for applications and widgets such as weather, calendar, etc.
Windows Phone 10 OS also uses blocks to display its UI. Image Source: Microsoft
Project ARA has been going on back & forth since 2013, and given the technical challenges of creating a modular phone as well as the market feasibility for it (lets face it; only enthusiast will likely be interested on such a device), we were never really quite sure if the project will even get there.
With this Google I/O 2016 however, there are lots of great news and updates regarding the visionary smartphone project. Here’s what’s new on Project ARA:
1. Project ARA is now open source
With Project ARA now open source (use of design and access to technical information being free), we can expect other manufacturers to participate in the development of the project (from creation of modules, to the development of the smartphone itself).
Google has also set guidelines to standardize the module designs and other technical information. This is important in ensuring that all modules will work on any future ARA-ready phones, regardless of manufacturer.
Key manufacturers from around the globe enter a partnership with Google to further develop ARA components. An ARA-powered Galaxy device anyone? Image Source: YouTube
2. Core components will no longer be modular (for now)
While there are no issues in making external modules for battery, camera, speakers and other stuff, making core components modular such as the displays and internal components (processor, gpu and ram) is an entirely different story altogether.
While disappointing, the decision to make the display and internal components built-in to the device would mean that the users will no longer have to worry in providing modules for these components. This makes it easier for any people not too familiar with them to get started on using ARA phones (as removing external modules such as cameras or speakers should not break smartphone core usability).
External components (such as camera, smartphone, card readers, etc) should break key smartphone functionality when removed, unlike internal components such as processors and gpu’s
Obviously this could change in the future, but at least for now, Google is not planning to have these components removable.
3. Modules made using different materials
Again, this comes from the whole customization feature. The modules aesthetic components will be made available through different materials such as wood, plastic, metal, etc.
I reckon even a gold-plated module will be created in the near future.
ARA modules come from different materials and color choices depending on the manufacturer. Materials such as wood,, fabric, leather and plastic should be made available by upcoming manufacturers in the future. Image Source: YouTube
4. Developer Edition will be available in Q4 2016, Consumer Edition in 2017
This is probably the biggest news that we have so far regarding Project ARA. This news all ensures that the smartphone ARA will soon be a reality and be made available for commercial use.
Having a fixed release dates for both Developer and Consumer Edition of the products also ensures that the project is way past its prototyping stages. A valid proof-of-concept of the design has been made and tested, and the device will be available Q4 this year (Developers Edition) and sometime next year (Consumer Edition).
Developer Edition will be released in Q4 2016. Consumer edition to follow-up next year
And there you have it. Suddenly, Project ARA is looking very promising again. You can check the YouTube video below to see the official ARA ad.
You can also visit their official website here. Stay tuned for more news and updates regarding Project ARA 🙂