There were times in the past 3 years when it felt like Google was giving up on Project Ara, the dream of a modular smartphone with parts you can swap out and upgrade much like a PC enthusiast would on his computer. The first few years, the technology just wasn’t right and there seemed to be no solutions. When Google I/O rolled in this year, we were pleasantly surprised with Project Ara.
First of all, what made it all work when just a few months back, Google was having trouble getting the pieces to work just right? Rafa Camargo, Google’s lead engineer on Project Ara, says that it was all in the scaling down of the vision. The new Project Ara will let you swap out modules, but not the core components like the processor, RAM, and the digital backbone. “When we did our user studies, what we found is that most users don’t care about modularizing the core functions,” Camargo explains. “They expect them all to be there, to always work and to be consistent.” The problem was that Project Ara may have been too ambitious. You can still swap out modules like crazy, but the core elements are now built in.
That will cause a few of the modular purists to wince. But Google will tell you that the technology just isn’t there yet. What we will have in 2017, when the consumer version of Ara comes out, will not be a future-proof phone, but one where you can mix and match like crazy. And it’s not just about the colors, too. When the Project Ara Developer Edition ships later this year, developers will have four modules to play with – a speaker, a camera, an E-Ink display and an expanded memory module.
The initial modules might not be as cool beans as you would have wanted them to be, but think about it – these are all elements that even high-end smartphones can’t give you. If you don’t like the single, speaker on your smart phone, go crazy and have 3 or 4 on your Ara. Ever wish you had more storage? Ara can add that instantly.
And Google is expecting that developers will go crazy in their imaginations of what modules you can carry on an Ara phone. “We know that people are going to build crazy stuff, and that’s OK,” says Blaise Bertrand, ATAP’s head of creative and marketing chief. “In fact, we’re looking forward to this.” So, are you looking forward to Project Ara now?