Google's modular smartphone project sacrificed its original vision to move forward

The first Ara phone will still be customizable, but users won't be able to swap its core components

Google's Project Ara modular smartphone is coming to developers soon, but it's lost a key part of its customization vision along the way.

Developers will be able to get their hands on an early release version of Ara by the end of this year, to begin building custom hardware modules for the device, Google announced at its I/O conference Friday. The modules will allow users to customize their phones with hardware like cameras, speakers, and even a rear-facing display.

Ara's initial philosophy was to serve as a wholly modular smartphone, which would allow users to customize all of the phone's components, including its processor, battery, network connectivity, and screen. Now, many of those components will be integrated into the Ara "frame," which will still retain space for some customization.

This means that users won't be able to buy one frame that acts solely as a network hub between modules and then continually upgrade it with new processors, network chips, and more.

But the process of setting up and maintaining an Ara phone will likely be easier for everyday users who won't have to worry about accidentally leaving their cellular data connection at home by removing a network module.

Last year, Google announced that its Project Ara smartphone pilot in Puerto Rico had ended as the company was re-evaluating what it wanted to do with the initiative. This revamped frame appears to be the result. It still stays true to the idea of Ara as a heavily customizable phone -- the frame has room for up to six custom modules -- but simplifies the product.

Consolidating all of the phone components of an Ara device into the frame reduces its customizability, but provides several benefits, like giving users a slim, integrated phone experience with room for them to add specific functionality they can't get from general-purpose consumer phones.

Developers can apply to be part of the Project Ara beta here. Google asks that all applicants describe what they want to do with one of the test units, meaning people who just want to take one of the devices for a spin will likely be turned away.

Looking forward, Google plans to release other Ara frames, and those won't necessarily resemble smartphones. We might even see an Ara tablet on the horizon.

Ara isn't the only Android phone banking on customization. LG's new G5 lets users swap out the bottom of the phone to get different functionality, but it doesn't have nearly as many slots for enhancement as Ara does.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags GoogleGoogle I/O 2016

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Blair Hanley Frank

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?