Google’s Project ARA has had a history of ups and downs, but those who are craving for a Phonebloks inspired modular phone are in luck. At Google I/O 2016, the ATAP Labs at Google announced that ARA is coming to the hands for consumers as soon as next year.
Dave Hakkens began this internet sensation with a video that highlighted the advantages of a modularised phone. If you break the screen, why replace the entire phone? With Phonebloks, you could simply exchange the broken screen module with a new, perhaps upgraded, one. Want a bigger battery? Just buy a battery block. Or you want something personalised? You could do that too, and product your own third-party modules.
Dave approached consumer electronics companies from around the world, and the idea was conceptualised by Motorola, which was at the time under Google. Project Ara was launched, and Google’s Advanced Technologies and Projects (ATAP) group took over to make it a reality. In 2014 and 2015, Google held Project Ara Developers Conferences and decided to test an alpha version of Ara in Puerto Rico, and later in the US (although nothing happened). At Google I/O 2015, we saw a working prototype of the phone, but later that year the news died out and the project hit a standstill (or really?).
And yesterday at Google I/O, ARA was announced. ARA is now an independent unit at Google ATAP and there is a fully functional version of the phone. Over the past year, ARA was re-invented. The biggest change? No more processor, battery and sensor modules. The skeleton of the device is now a full fledged phone with a powerful processor embedded right in it. The modules are now extensions to the phone, more like accessories rather than essentials.
The ATAP group has already developed modules for the phone that improve the parts that aren’t up to the mark on current smartphones. Speakers, cameras and battery modules come under this. The group also made more personalised and colourful modules, so that you can add a wooden or concrete finish to the phone. And of course, there are experimental modules, such as a glucometer module and a secondary screen module.
These modules can snapped right into the frame of the phone, and there is no requirement of rebooting the device every time a module is added. The software detects it automatically and the module is ready to use right out of the box. To remove a module (say camera module) you can use the settings app or simply say “Okay Google, eject camera module”. As long as the phone is face down, the module will pop right off the phone.
Google is opening up module development and releasing hardware and software APIs to help developers and companies to make functional blocks that can extend the value of the phone. The ARA beta developers kit will be available to interested developers in fall this year, and a consumer version of the project will launch next year.
Google put together a short video to explain ARA’s real world usage, which you can watch below.
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