How Google’s Project Ara Will Reinvent the Existence of Smartphones
The whole idea of technology is to continuously evolve through introduction of new and feasible upgrades. However, this process of evolution makes the old devices inherently wasteful. As soon as a new device comes out, the old one is tossed in the garbage or put on the shelf to collect dust. But Google’s Project ARA wants to change that with a Lego-like device in which parts of the phone, although not the entire device, can be replaced.
The idea of modular smartphone may sounds exciting but it was not easy to build; we presently call it the PhoneBlok smartphone. PhoneBloks began with a single video, almost one and a half years ago, describing in some detail, the idea for a phone worth keeping. Even though it was just an idea, it generated quite a buzz in the tech industry with a social media reach of over 380,000,000 people. Shaking the mere foundation of the smartphone market, the idea presented by the PhoneBlok community questioned the idea of typical smartphones and showed an effective way for change.
The roots of the modular smartphone can be traced back to Modu, an Israeli mobile phone company, founded in 2007 by Dov Moran. The company invented the Modu, a modular cellular device which could be used in various other devices. However, the company ceased operations in February 2011 as it attempted to pay back debts and salaries owed to its workers. In mid May 2011 Google acquired several Modu Mobile patents for $4.9 million. In 2013, Google-owned Motorola announced it is developing a modular phone and hence the Project Ara was born. Meanwhile, Google sold Motorola to Lenovo, but, retained the Project ARA Team.
How Does it Work?
The basic idea of the Phoneblok is creating a smartphone that has detachable components on its front and back so that everything from the processor to the camera can be easily upgraded without discarding the rest of the phone. The entire contraption is held together by a pegboard-style base, with a screen also replaceable mounted on the front.
There would be one block (also called modules) for the camera lens, one for the battery, one for storage and so on. Those blocks would plug into the base, and the blocks, base and screen would be secured together with two screws. Because individual blocks can be replaced when they become outdated or simply break. Additonally the electronic junk will be minimal with these smartphones.
Ara modules need to have a way to communicate with the rest of the phone, but physical contacts are often cumbersome and prone to easy damage. So instead, the modules use “capacitive interconnects,” which are wireless and theoretically more reliable, especially at high speeds. The capacitive pads also help saving space on the modules, since they’re smaller than physical pins.
Modules will be available both at an official Google store and at third-party stores. Ara Smartphones will only accept official modules by default, but users can change a software setting to enable unofficial modules. This is similar to how Android handles app installations.
When Will It be Available?
At present, Google has announced the launch of Project Ara MDK 0.2. The second developers kit from the project is said take PhoneBlok closer to the reality. The MDK 0.2 is based on the Spiral 2 prototype that will be revealed at the upcoming developers’ conference. The company has added a section on the Module Marketplace, which is said to be a lot like a Google Play Store for Ara hardware modules. Unlike the Play Store, however, it seems that this marketplace is going to be strictly curated.
Along with this, the company has also announced the release of Ara Manager app that will be made available in the near future. This app will let users control the functions of different modules and monitor their state and information.
Coming February, Google will kick off second installment of Ara Developers’ Conference which will mark the roll out of MDK 0.2 to limited number of developers. The commercial release is still on hold, however, the recent advancement in the project has hinted that the modular smartphone are very close to become a reality.
Project Ara could be a ground shaker in the Tech Industry. With a video managing a social media reach of 380 Million, and the smartphone market growing so rapidly; one can only wonder what impact it will have when this project becomes a reality.