Project Ara: The Modular Phone

Project Ara: The Modular Phone You’ve Always Wanted

May 11th, 2015

2013 brought about a new idea; Phonebloks: a concept piece to show how a modular mobile device could run. Since Google’s acquisition of Motorola in May 2012, they’ve set their sights on the idea of modularity in the smartphone sector. This has now materialised as “Project Ara”: the world’s very first working modular mobile phone.

Phonebloks modular design concept

The idea is simple: users of the phone will receive a simple shell like exoskeleton, basic in style and components. If you fancy something a bit more powerful then you can head to the online component store (very much like an app store but for hardware) and upgrade to a fancy camera or maybe treat yourself to double the battery power.

In the battle for the best smartphone, Ara is special in the that almost anyone can develop hardware for the it, especially since the release of the MDK (modular development kit) which allows developers to implement their current hardware into a form that will be accepted within the realms of possibility for the phone itself.

Gear, upgrades and components

The main selling point of the Ara is the ability to upgrade or hot swap any component of the phone at any given point without having to switch it off for a reboot. Let’s say you want to take a stunning hi-res image but that slot is currently occupied by your extra battery; well, no problem, you can just remove it via the simple electromagnets holding it in place and swap it for that amazing camera component you bought last week.

Simplicity and convenience features heavily on the overall impact of the Ara. To give it maximum effectiveness users will be presented with a range of components such as Sennheiser speakers or night vision cameras as teased in Google’s latest video showcasing the product:

Steady progression has been made in facilitating the move from concept to prototype with reports cropping up about a suspected release of the phone in Puerto Rico as early as this 2015. Even more recently fans have been treated to actual real life photos of the phone- complete with chip sets and hardware- cementing this as the first real piece of kit that will make it to market.

Ara Prototype

Confirmed via the verified Google ATAP account, images showing the design in physical form highlight the true extent to which these modules can reach; from 3d textures to modules as small as 20mm squares, the phone could shape up to have an interesting range of intricate designs proving to be more of an artistic outlet to users rather than a hardware reform.

A future unhinged by technical limitations & design

As far as large companies getting stuck into Ara is concerned, the phone will get a mammoth amount of support from speaker, camera and even sensor developers who have dedicated whole teams to ensuring their products will be readily available from day one of the official release. However its the smaller developers that are the most interesting: the ones who will use a range of items from 3d printers to handmade skins for each individual module.

Just within the first year of going on sale we could see a multitude of startups offering low cost modules on the “Module store” which for the first time ever could add a competitive advantage to small hardware makers.

In more recent news, prototype test kits have begun shipping to developers all over world to give them a chance to play around with the almost infinite amount of possibilities that Ara presents. Another great advantage to the phone is that it could actually be an affordable handset that could provide cheaper solutions to lower income households. The predicted cost for an entry level handset could be as low as $50 (around £30) and if at any point the user gets a little cash and feels like splashing some out on a new speaker without having to replace their whole phone it will be possible. The cost of replacing items should be much cheaper in the long run too – imagine your screen has smashed, the ability to hot swap it out yourself will save countless money.

Ara Module Example

Only time will tell the full effect that Project Ara will have on the industry

Critics had once argued that such a concept could never be achieved and here we are today awaiting much anticipated information on what the next move for the Ara will be.

With the speed at which the Ara is steaming ahead it won’t be too long now until we hear a set market release date from one of the many conferences and events planned from Google along with a full range of partners and modules that are planned for release.

It’s certainly exciting to know that this could be the future of mobile phones and through the combination of partnerships between companies, collaborations on designs of hardware and a mass amount of exposure to the market it won’t be too long until user demand will rise to spur other companies to join in on the revolution and increase the size of the “module store” considerably.

Make sure to let us know what has you most excited for Project Ara! If you can’t wait for the release of this magnificent phone why not check out some of the phone deals on a range of handsets including the Google Nexus 6

Did you like this article?