Google cooks up a food-truck model to sell Project Ara smartphones

The first Project Ara trucks will be deployed in Puerto Rico

Google wants to sell its first Project Ara smartphones in style, and it's drawing inspiration from food trucks. Later this year, it will deploy "mobile trucks" where customers will be able to design, print and assemble their own custom handset in under five minutes.

The first Project Ara smartphones will go on sale in Puerto Rico. The trucks will stop first in Old San Juan, moving south to Ponce, the island's second-largest city, then through the rest of Puerto Rico, said Jessica Beavers, marketing lead with Google's advanced projects division, at the Project Ara developer conference in Cupertino, California.

"We'll slowly be rolling our truck across the island," she said.

Project Ara is a bold project to let people assemble their smartphone from modular components to get the features they want. Google will sell a basic smartphone frame, and users will be able to add the features they choose by snapping them into the frame.

The idea was inspired by Lego, and Google is relying partly on external developers to make antennas, batteries, cameras and other components. If a camera or antenna stops functioning, the module can be swapped out, eliminating the need to buy a new phone.

Users will be able to design and assemble their smartphones in under five minutes at the mobile trucks, according to Beavers.

"We can cater to individual needs and preferences," she said. "It's your camera, your processor... it's your Ara."

For customers who don't want to choose every feature themselves, Google will offer a "bento box" option with pre-selected components that users assemble at the point of sale.

And for those who can't be bothered with the assembly process, a "ready-to-go" Ara with all the modules plugged in will be on sale. The pre-built phones will be based on themes like hiking, travel or photography.

"The trucks, experience, packaging, it's all part of the Ara story," Beavers said. "The intention is for the truck to be a single retail unit."

Google chose Puerto Rico as its first location because of its high mobile penetration. More than three-quarters of smartphone users there are "mobile first," meaning they access the Internet mainly their smartphones, Beavers said.

Internet penetration is around 60 percent, and more than 80 percent of smartphone users rely on social media for news, product purchases and other activities.

"All of this makes for a very interesting carrier landscape," Beavers said.

Google will work with carriers such as Claro to bring Project Ara to Puerto Rico.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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