Devices News

Google I/O: five things we care about: Project Ara

Google Project Ara

In part four of our Google I/O series, we mull over another of the interesting developments that Google covered at its developer conference in May. We’ve already covered Android M, virtual reality and wearables,  but this time we’ll take a quick look at something that many people will find more interesting – the Project Ara modular smartphone.

As the project website itself proclaims: “The smartphone is one of the most empowering and intimate objects in our lives. Yet most of us have little say in how the device is made, what it does, and how it looks. And 5 billion of us don’t have one. What if you could make thoughtful choices about exactly what your phone does, and use it as a creative canvas to tell your own story?”.

The premise of the design-it-yourself smartphone is an appealing one, and if the right balance between price, aesthetics and functionality can be achieved then it might find some success when it is eventually released to the public…

Project Ara demoed at Google I/O

Google Project Ara

During one of the keynotes at Google I/O, engineer Rafa Camargo showed off a fully functioning Project Ara phone. Project Ara, which was officially announced in 2014, is basically a modular phone that lets the user pick and choose components – such as a camera, processor, battery and more, meaning that you don’t have to purchase a new phone. Imagine being able to just upgrade the processor on your phone and leave everything else the same – it would certainly be great for consumers who want the latest technology but don’t want to fork out hundreds every year.

The components of Project Ara have been demoed before, but the keynote was the first time that Google showed the phone being put together in a live demo. Camargo didn’t reveal much else about the project’s status, such as when it will be available for purchase, but a pilot program is planned for Puerto Rico later this year, in which the public will be able to try out the device.

Google Project Ara

Unfortunately, the audience present was show the same prototype of the phone that has been around for a while now, at least since the second Ara Developers Conference in January. Furthermore, the demo was only a few minutes long, but at least it gave a taster of what we could expect if it ever hits the shelves.

As for the purpose of the phone, not much is know about that either, apart from proving that it can be done technically. The engineer showed how a photo module could be slid into the phone’s frame, in addition to how other modules can be added one at a time. Before the camera was attached, the device (which runs Android Lollipop) indicated that the camera mobile was unavailable when trying to take a picture. When attached, even without restarting the phone, it was instantly recognised and he then snapped the first public photo using the phone.

Google Project Ara at Google I/O

Are modular devices and components the future of smartphones, or simply a novel concept that is unlikely to find traction in a fickle market? Let us know your thoughts and opinions in the comments below…

By Roland Banks

Roland Banks has been passionate about mobile technology for the past 20 years. He started his career at British Telecom's research division working on collaborative virtual reality environments, before becoming a video streaming specialist at 3 UK where he helped launch some of the world's first mobile video services. More recently he enjoys writing about his obsession, and developing software that helps mobile operators analyse their subscriber data.

Roland has lived in Asia for the past 5 years, and tries to indulge his other passion for riding motorcycles whenever possible.

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