project ara

Google’s Project Ara Lets You Build Your Own Smartphone

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, modified by Curiousmatic. 

Google has so many projects up their sleeve, their shirt must be enormous. Their latest could change the face of mobile technology, and it’s coming sooner than you think.

While its balloon-powered broadband initiative Project Loon was on our radar last week, Google’s modular smart phone project, known as Project Ara, is even closer to completion — and could change the face of the mobile phones as we know it.

The project, which has been in the works since just last year, is building highly customizable Android-powered multi-faceted devices, working swiftly toward a pilot launch in Puerto Rico later in 2015.

Though Ara hasn’t exactly been a secret, since a developers conference in April 2014, new details have brought to light on how the phone will operate, and what it will do and look like.

How does it work?

Much like legos (GoogLEGO, anyone?), the modular phone would consist of a series of customizable pieces, allowing for users to buy and rearrange add-ons rather than throw out their phones for newer models.

Screen Shot 2014-04-20 at 11.36.10 PM
Photo source: Google Project Ara

The base piece will be a very basic (and inexpensive) endoskeleton called a “gray phone,” the drabness of which would encourage users to customize. It will be available in mini, medium, and large, with additional parts connecting to the base phone by electro-permanent magnets, which hold controllable strength without constant energy.

Custom features would include unique 3D-printed textures for the phone’s shell, which could be taken on and off.

Screen Shot 2014-04-20 at 11.48.39 PM
Photo source: Google Project Ara

In fact, users would be able to design their phone’s look entirely on Ara’s Configurator, and access an online marketplace of pieces created by different developers and companies. These modules would include sensors, cameras, radio antennas, extra storage, application processors, keyboards, extra battery, speakers and more.

Most recently, Miami-based company Yezz has been tapped by Google to develop and showcase compatible modules.

A change in mobile tech

The idea is that if users can choose their OS, apps, and case, why not let them choose their hardware? Project Ara’s wants to do for hardware what Android did for software by creating a vibrant ecosystem of third-party developers.

Another shift may be that the properties of a modular phone dissuade users from ditching their phones for new models every couple of years, as they can keep their base component and simply add newer parts.

Further, with the basic grey phone consisting of screen, wifi, and processor projected to cost a mere $50, Google plans to prioritize bringing the phone to developing nations as an affordable method of mobile Internet connection.

Though many are skeptical, most are also intrigued. Though the Ara Module Developer Kit is available on their website now, it seems there’s a lot of exciting elements left to be revealed.

Until then, we can only muse/drool over the possibilities.

This article was originally published on April 21, 2014. 

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Jennifer Markert