Google I/O 2016 came to a close on Friday, and it marked our sixth year in attendance to Google's annual developer bash. A great many topics were covered from divisions all over Google, with lots of announcements big and small, both consumer and developer-facing. Our first I/O recap covered the front half of the show, while Mark takes a look at some of the announcements from Google's ATAP division as well as shares some thoughts on the show and news overall this year.
Project Ara was supposed to go into public testing last year, but that didn't happen. Google has been quiet about the state of its modular smartphone since then, but now there's a new demo video. It shows off some weird modules, but what about a release date? Well, there's nothing for regular people, but a developer edition will be available this fall.
Speculation is rampant about the future of Google's incredibly ambitious Project Ara modular phone after news broke a few days ago that the planned 2015 test run in Puerto Rico had been cancelled. Now the Project Ara Twitter accounted has shared a tidbit of news that might offer a partial explanation of the delay. The electropermanent magnets that were supposed to hold the hardware modules in place don't pass drop tests.
The news late last week for Google's modular smartphone initiative was not good. After promising a real world test of Project Ara would take place in 2015, Google finally had to pull back and cancel those plans. A series of tweets today at least provides some clues as to what's next for Ara. There are three tweets which conveniently answer the questions—when, where, and why?
If you haven't heard, Project Ara is coming. No, I don't mean that in the vague it's being worked on sense. It's actually on its way to Puerto Rico in the form of a market pilot sometime later this year. Google announced the news at the second annual Project Ara Module Developers Conference currently underway.
The market pilot for Ara will be in Puerto Rico #AraDev
Google selected Puerto Rico due to the research opportunities the location provides. Mobile users there are as likely to use a feature phone as a smartphone, and they have a varied selection of carriers to choose from, ranging from big US carriers to smaller local options.
Project Ara stirred up plenty of excitement when it was first announced, and it continues to entice people with its promise of a modular and upgradeable phone. We recently learned that users will be able to hot-swap modules (excluding the CPU and screen) while the device is on thanks to a modified version of Android Lollipop.
Now Phonebloks has shared a video of Ara's porgress at NK Labs, a Massachusetts-based contractor doing a great deal of work on the project. In it, we see an updated version of the prototype demoed at Google I/O.
Towards the end of this presentation, we hear that a second prototype, known as Spiral 2, will provide more of the device's space to developers and resources.
Project Ara seems like the sort of thing that could never in a zillion years work, but Google is committed to giving it a shot. After bringing Motorola's ATAP in-house, the company has forged ahead on Project Ara. Now project head Paul Eremenko has offered up a few new details of how Ara will work. Basically, the phone can be taken apart while it's on.
Project Ara is still going strong, and Google demonstrated it at I/O at the ATAP presentation. Project Ara Technical Lead Paul Eremenko talks up the modular phone platform in the video below (starting at around 23:30), bringing the concept beyond simple phone component upgrades. "What if a phone could see in the dark? What if a phone could test if water is clean?" The collaborative Ara team wants the hardware to be just as flexible as the larger Android ecosystem.
They showed off a working, self-contained Ara "Spiral" prototype phone for the first time, with all the hot-swappable modules installed and a build of Android running.
According to the Nikkei business wire, Toshiba announced today that the company will be providing the processing guts for Google's upcoming Project Ara modular smartphones. The release itself is pretty bare-bones - Toshiba says it will provide 3 different types of processors for the phone, and that while it will initially be the "preferred" supplier for those components, it will become their sole provider a year after Ara's initial rollout.
Perhaps more interestingly, the story claims that Ara smartphones will start at prices as cheap as $50. What's not clear, exactly, is what that will include - does that come with a display?
Google's Project Ara might be the very definition of a geek pipe dream: an idea that makes a lot of sense, but isn't quite possible with current technology, being made real with applied engineering and creativity. Even with Motorola being sold to Lenovo, the Ara modular phone project is still full speed ahead at the Googleplex under the new ATAP team. Dave Hakkens of Phonebloks, who presented a very similar concept back in September, was recently given a tour of ATAP's progress. He was kind enough to bring a video camera along.
From an engineering standpoint, the coolest thing in the early Ara prototypes is the system that keeps the modular hardware components in place.