Those following the development of the modular smartphone ever since its conception last year are probably quite excited with the progress that Google’s Project Ara has made. While still at the initial Spiral 1 stage, with Spiral 2 set to be launched early next year, the smartphone is showing not only promise, but is actually working already to some extent. At Expand NY, Project Ara lead Paul Emerenko took to stage to show the public for the first time an actual working prototype.
While the design of the Project Ara smartphone has many facets, its call to fame is, of course, its modularity, with both basic and extra functionality provided by modules. We’ve already seen one of those in the form of a pulse oximeter. But more than just the modules themselves, it is also important that you can swap these modules out as easily as say, a microSD card. That is exactly what Emerenko demonstrated, at least with a dummy LED module that does nothing but shine a light. But the demonstration is important because it shows how you can add or remove modules without having to power down the phone.
That magic is thanks to the endoframe, the only part of Project Ara that Google will sell. Aside from holding the modules together, its unique design is able to let each module take on three different modes with regards to power. They can either use power, provide power, or store power. It all just works and works like a regular smartphone that can even play a round of Angry Birds.
And it is indeed like any other Android smartphone. Emerenko says that Spiral 1 currently runs on stock Android 4.4 KitKat, but that will soon change to Lollipop. That change will also bring about a change in how drivers are handled in Project Ara. Currently, all the module drivers are baked into the Android kernel, which isn’t exactly a sane setup if you plan on growing an ecosystem of dozens, if not hundreds, of third-party modules. The future versions will include generic drivers for each class of module to support as many as possible, with specific and extra features exposed in apps instead.