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.
Well, this isn't great news - the guy responsible for designing Project Ara as part of Google's ATAP team (and previously, at Motorola), which Google picked up as part of the Motorola-Lenovo acquisition, is leaving! Dan Makoski is headed to another company to work on more amazing, innovative, interesting, game-changing products. Just kidding: he's going to work for a bank. Capital One, to be precise. He has this to say about it:
there are few spaces as ripe for technology and human-inspired re-imagination as how people relate to their money,
Capital One has been steadily building a quiet but extraordinary design thinking, strategy and execution culture on top of its already legendary data analytics capability,
and when you stir the above and throw in the spark of vision & leadership:
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.
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.