28
Feb
1

We're all excited by the prospects of Project Ara, Google's upcoming lick-and-stick modular phone that will essentially allow users to upgrade the device's hardware on the fly. Recently, one of the Ara team members showed off a non-functional model of the device at LAUNCH, which gives us a very good idea of how swapping components will work.

They waste no time getting right into the juicy details, so give it a watch. The total runtime is about 25 minutes, so there's quite a bit of info packed into the video:

Aside from showing off the modular aspects of Ara, they also get into pricing information, which of course has been a question for everyone. Fortunately, Google's goal is to keep Ara – which is noted to be called Google Ara in the video – as affordable as possible. The endoskeletons (which are the base of the entire phone) should run about $15 a piece since they don't do much outside of allowing all the other components to talk to one another; modules, of course, will vary in pricing but are still said to be "affordable."

Speaking of the "endos" as they call them, there will be three sizes at launch: a mini, which looks to be about the size of an iPhone; medium, which is probably a "standard" Android phone size of 4.7ish inches (that's a guess); and a larger, phablet-esque size that is approximately one-third larger than the medium endo. The best part about the three is that all modules will be completely interchangeable between them, so you could theoretically have all three endos and switch your phone size from day-to-day (or even hour-to-hour, should your fickleness desire it).

2014-02-28_15h57_50 2014-02-28_15h58_18

While Google hopes to have its own official store to provide modules, the company also plans to allow external sources to offer their own modules. It's actually likened to the way Android handles apps: the Google Play Store is the official channel for application distribution, but if a users wants to install an app outside of Google's ecosystem, a simple toggle in the settings menu is all that's needed. Ara modules are said to work the same way.

That's really the meat and potatoes of the information found in the video, but there are a ton of little details here and there. It's definitely worth 25 minutes of your time to check it out. This is fascinating stuff, and something that will be a reality in the consumer world quicker than we realize.

[via ProjectAra]

Cameron Summerson
Cameron is a self-made geek, Android enthusiast, horror movie fanatic, musician, and cyclist. When he's not pounding keys here at AP, you can find him spending time with his wife and kids, plucking away on the 6-string, spinning on the streets, or watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre on repeat.

  • Dominic Powell

    I think they should extend the idea to a tablet form factor as well. this really is a beautiful elegant solution for increasing the pace of innovation in the smartphone market and stopping it from being so cyclical and essentially waiting on the next major "refresh" of a phone. Does your camera suck on your device? not feeling those ultrapixels, get a 100 mp carl zeiss lens camera from Nikon.

    • Justin Foster

      Exactly. I wonder if it will also help software updates from google to be faster. Will they make updates universal among all devices? That's something we will definitely have to wait and see.

      • Tomáš Petrík

        This is what I am interested about. Once you can have thousands of iterations of custom-built phones, the OS would have to be universal, something like Windows on desktop.

        • jaduncan

          One of the things that's nice about this is that it's likely to mean that a lot of device support is pushed to the Linux kernel.

        • Justin Foster

          Yea, and I also wonder how carriers will respond... I mean if you can simply swap out your antenna module for another, there's nothing to keep you bound to one carrier. Also, how will carriers profit from this?

          • http://www.modminecraft.com/ Nick Coad

            The same way they've always profited, contracts and handset sales...

          • Tomáš Petrík

            If it will resemble the PC model, the carriers will have to benefit from the services alone.
            For example, your cable or internet provider does not sell you the PC or TV.

      • andrew

        Does with windows which uses a variety of modules so I don't see why it can't be done

    • Serge Cebrian

      +10000000

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Cameron Summerson

      He actually touches on the tablet thing closer to the end of the video.

    • Ivan Myring

      100MP on a phone would be useless. The pixels would be tiny.

      • Davis Hernandez

        yeah because nobody transfers their photos to a monitor or a tv to get a better view xD

        • Ivan Myring

          The pixels on the SENSOR. they would get no light. Big pixels are better (hence HTCs ultrapixels) and that is what a 16MP full frame DSLR like the D4 is better than a compact with 16MP

          • Davis Hernandez

            lol i understood pixels on the screen, until i saw the above comment, sorry :S but you´re right, also i dont see anybody choosing a lumia 1080p over a DSLR camera

          • andy_o

            The DSLR is not better cause the pixels are bigger, but because the sensor is bigger. If you had the same pixel or photosite size on both sensors (i.e. with an insane pixel count on the DSLR) it will still be about the same amount of "better".

          • Freak4Dell

            A bigger sensor with the same amount of pixels means the pixels are bigger.

          • andy_o

            I said size.

          • Freak4Dell

            The size of the sensor definitely plays a role in making a DSLR better, but it's not the sole reason as you claim it is. The size of the pixels is extremely important, too. Bigger pixels let in more light, which gives you less noise (though we do get to a point where the resolution of a high-MP sensor will negate the noise of that same sensor on a print).

          • andy_o

            This is almost a decade-old debate since the 5D came out. Bigger pixels capture more light, but more pixels also capture more light. Noise basically is compensated for by the higher pixel count. Tests have been made by many people, including with software like CRAW which doesn't even process the picture into RGB, but analyzes the raw data.

          • theineffablebob

            And because the sensor is bigger, the pixels are bigger...

          • andy_o

            Again, I said

            If you had the same pixel or photosite size on both sensors (i.e. with an insane pixel count on the DSLR)

    • http://www.deathbycone.com Jared Kotoff

      The idea is that there will be different sizes in the skeletons. Smaller ones have less room for modules. You pick the size you want and bundle it with the "front module". So you'd just get a 7" plate, now you have a tablet. He talks about this at 21:35

      • http://www.modminecraft.com/ Nick Coad

        That's a phablet, I'm assuming he meant that he would like to see a full size tablet, 10" or so.

        • http://www.deathbycone.com Jared Kotoff

          As far as i know there's no official defining term for phablet vs tablet. It seems to be mostly opinion. In my opinion over 7" is a tablet. The Nexus 7 is considered a tablet.
          Either way, it was an EXAMPLE. Theres nothing really stopping them from making a 10" endo.

          • pfmiller

            You mean there's no clear difference between a phablet and a phone. The difference between a tablet and a phablet is simple, one works as a phone. Of course in this context any tablet could but turned into a phablet in a instant by sticking a phone module in it.

          • http://www.deathbycone.com Jared Kotoff

            Exactly, so using the terminology is completely useless when talking about Ara because all sizes are can be either.

    • LewisSD

      22:45

  • John Davis

    Would software be an issue as in does software need to be optimized for different hardware?

    • jcopernicus

      I wouldn't think so, The skeleton is literally just a switch ( as was said). It's just handing off data. As long as the modules hand off the data correctly it removes that headache.

    • Dennis Ulijn

      like windows has a lot of drivers built-in or are downloadable, I think it would work the same. Like, basic functionality always works, and if you plug a new module your phone automatically downloads the latest stable driver for that module.

      • Thomas Phillips

        Thats a pretty big deviation from how Android functions now though. That means that Google is making a pretty drastic move with Android towards competing with Windows if you can change hardware and update drivers.

  • gk1984

    The host's facial expressions looked like he was getting off just talking about this, which was a little weird to watch

  • Davis Hernandez

    now they just need to launch screens with wacom digitalizers so i can switch from my note 2 :)

  • Matthew Gardner

    When this was first suggested as phonebloks I thought it was ridiculous.
    But holy shit, it's actually happening.

    • Stephen McGann

      That was my exact reaction

    • kutchbhi

      Why do/did people find it ridiculous? I just don't get it .

  • EH101

    Looks like I'll be getting an S5 or Z2 and then building one of these Ara devices next year. A great time to be a cell phone user.

  • Justin W

    I love what they are doing with this, and I love how far they've gotten so far. I'm excited to see the first production of this. One thing I think people are taking out of context is the $50 cost - I see people saying this is what it should cost consumers, when this isn't the case - he says specifically, it's a $50 bill of materials, which isn't including logistics or labor. I'm thinking a regular-type low-end device of this would launch with a price of somewhere around $100, with similar specs to a high-end flagship device being priced much higher.

    • dhruva

      i dont think so, $50 is what they are aiming for. their first target is feature phones.

      • http://www.deathbycone.com Jared Kotoff

        Even if it is $100 for a low end phone. In the long run this will still be cheaper in the same way that a desktop is cheaper than a laptop because of the ability to add, upgrade, and replace modularly.
        So by the time someone bought their second or third high-end phone it would probably end up costing the same. Or even costing more than this.

      • Justin W

        It comes out of his mouth as bill of materials - in businesses, thats more or less just what it costs the business in parts/materials to create the product, not including labor or overhead.

  • Stanley Chan

    Lets hope this keep not so expensive.

    These bloks will be the high cost. Screen shoul be expensive.

    How they fix the bloks? Magnectics?

    • David Thoren

      They actually talk a bit about base pricing for a phone with wifi connectivity, a CPU, battery, display, around $50. The individual blocks don't have to be expensive if the companies making them are competing to offer value.

      They actually also talk about the magnets used to keep the thing together... there are some very weak magnets to initially hold the phone together, but the modules are actually "locked" in place using what they refereed to as electro-permanent magnets, which he said switch between on and off states, but in those states they do not use power, so a module would be slid into place, the weak magnet would hold it in place long enough for you to tell the system to "lock" the modules. They didn't discuss how that locking would be done, but I would guess it would be some sort of system setting.

  • Asphyx

    Imagine being able to jump from Verizon to AT&T or TMOBILE without having to buy a new phone!
    That alone makes me want this without even going into upgrading my Proc whenever I want.

    • dogulas

      Only Verizon would never allow that. Must be made and approved by them or nothing.

    • Ror

      Or go crazy and have your phone run off of 4 simultaneous networks at once. Heh.

  • anees

    I hope it wouldn't be easily slidable as it may cause problems if the modules become loose. And modules may fall of when the fall from hands.

    • http://www.deathbycone.com Jared Kotoff

      At 17:30 in the video he says that the magnets will extent more force than you can push with your finger and the ones shown are simply for the non-working prototype hes showing.

      • ElTimo

        I'm imagining a barely-audible "click" when you turn on your phone as all the modules get locked in. It's beautiful.

        • http://www.deathbycone.com Jared Kotoff

          Well only like when they turn to their "locked" state. Just cause the phone is off doesn't mean that they modules will be unlocked, but I hope there's a click like that when transitioning too.

          • Stanley Chan

            This magnectis will use battery? How it works?

          • http://www.deathbycone.com Jared Kotoff

            They only use power to switch states. Google electropermanent magnets

  • http://about.me/aaqil Aaqil Mahmood

    its cool

    15$+few other things+more than one batteries will be very good for my mother

  • slurivariv

    I've been excited about this since Phonebloks. Omg. I can't wait. I'll be supporting this as soon as it's released!

  • dogulas

    That host guy needs to shut up. Wow. Zero awareness on his part. Constantly interrupting.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Cameron Summerson

      That's Jason Calacanis, and I couldn't agree more.

  • Proioxix

    This is fantastic, I'm going to keep a close eye on this. Awesome stuff Google.

  • realitysconcierge

    This is amazing. Though I have to say, it kind of goes directly against google's stance on sd cards lol.

    • Colin Kealty

      how so? now, instead of expanding with an sd card, you just buy a bigger storage module. If you're talking about the switching out and it no longer being the same phone, that's the intended result, that could can switch out the data module and transfer it to to another device

      • realitysconcierge

        I'm too lazy to pick up a source, but essentially, the person who is in charge of designing the nexus phones won't put sd card slots in them because they "confuse consumers and are too complicated." Or something along those lines.

        • Lee Winkler

          While your quote is essentially correct, its taken out of context. Its not because putting in a card or taking a card out is complicated...its because of how android handles internal storage and external storage, what you can do with it and what you cant.

          • realitysconcierge

            That's the best kind of correct! No I'm j/k. I totally got you. I definitely can't wait to see what becomes of the project!

        • Colin Kealty

          as lee said, but also the complication and confusion came from "if i take a picture, where does it store it? internal storage, or external storage? what's the default? should you prompt every time? also, if an app downloads data to the SD card, what happens when you remove it, does the app re-download everything?" and so on

  • RantGirlRants

    Guaranteed that Verizon Wireless will not allow these on their network. There's no practical way for Verizon to spend 6-8 months "testing" the devices, nor figure out how much bloatware they can load.

    • Robert Mahon

      OO, interesting point. Perhaps this is the way Google's trying to get around all that?
      Have the base model, and if Verizon don't want your phone on their network, you swap around the 'telco' module and switch to TMO/AT&T's network without having to change entire phones.

      • RantGirlRants

        Verizon is just like Comcast, blinded by greed to how much smart customers hate them, their BS Grand Moff Tarkin-esque OCD tactics of Control At Any Cost (especially the customer's) make them a sad, flat, humorless joke; whose punchline is merely another illustration of how much corporate America hates the American people.

  • godutch

    magnets near EM-circuits and antennae, is that a good idea?

    • http://orcinus.me Ante Vukorepa

      Yes. Magnets have nothing to do with EM circuits nor antennae.

  • joker159

    wow , it's like a pc, but in mini version , so cool !!, we are waiting for something disruptive for so much time, this idea has a very great potential!!!

  • didibus

    Wow this looks so awesome. If the data and power transfer between the modules is not a limiting factor, it will be pretty sweet. I wonder why this kind of block module concept never made it to regular PCs. Hopefully it does evolve to other things than smartphones.

    Also, the guy is such a nice elaborate speaker.

  • Alonso Tucati

    Why aiming for the low end market?
    1. People are too lazy. We prefer to pay a lot for a product with a closed ecosystem (as e.g. Apple provides) rather than a complicated, modularized and customizable product with infinite possibilities.
    2. Smartphones became a status symbol. So those with relatively high buying power would buy the very latest technology or most beautiful product.
    3. Having the public image of a low-end product and customers with relatively slim budget, it will not be desirable for any high-end technology company to design modules for Ara.
    4. The high potency of malfunctioning and incompatibilities and security issues will also keep away customers who use their phones for business.

  • a

    Nearly 3 hours? Damn. Ain't nobody got time for that.

    • Brandon Miller

      The Project Ara talk is only for about 30 minutes.

  • like it

    never have you phone on the charger just a module and hot swap it over when you charge it.

  • MobileAppDeveloper

    Great idea but ........

  • Jay T

    OMG, I can't wait!

  • hyperbolic

    A new era has arrived.

  • vijay alapati

    adding a special parts like camera or processor needs special software, when user adds a new camera we also need to update the software to take advantage of the new camera features, hope they come up with a solution regarding the fragmentation

  • owe

    video is private and cannot be viewed

  • MacMan156

    damn it's private now

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