Google’s Project ARA is coming next year

Google’s Project ARA modular smartphone will soon be a consumer device and many already consider it to be the holy grail of smartphones. Project ARA was first announced in 2013, which showcased a modular smartphone with swappable modules and components. The smartphone has the standard form factor with removable modules like camera, extra battery, large speakers etc.

But the world never got to see Project ARA, until now. Google has also made the big promise that developers will be able to get their hands on the device and a consumer model will be coming out in the year 2017. Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects team (ATAP) revealed during this year’s Google I/O that developers will be witnessing the very first Project ARA modular phone while consumers have to wait for the consumer version that will be launched in 2017.

Google revealed a working prototype version of ARA, which lets you live-swap hardware modules like cameras and speakers onto a base frame which contains the core phone components. You can even say, “Okay, Google, eject the camera” to release modules, which is pretty cool. It has six modular slots, each one is generic, so you can put any module in any slot, and they’re all linked up through an open standard Unipro that can push 11.9 gigabits of data in both directions.

The modules connect to the device through the Greybus software of Google, which allows the modules to instantly connect with Android. This gives Project ARA the feature of hot-swapping modules, which means users do not need to power down the device to remove and attach different components. But the new Project ARA isn’t designed to let you swap out core components like the smartphone processor, which is built-in the base frame.

When we did our user studies, what we found is that most users don’t care about modularizing the core functions,” Rafa Camargo, the Technical projects leader of ARA explained. “They expect them all to be there, to always work, and to be consistent.”

Our initial prototype was modularizing everything… Just to find out users didn’t care,” he added.

The developer edition of the Project ARA smartphone will be shipping out later this year and it will be a 5.3 inch touchscreen device. The smartphone is estimated to be a high-end device and will be virtually identical to any other Android smartphone. A button on the right side will bring up a map of the modules currently attached on the device and in order to remove one, the user has to tap on the module they want to eject out.

About 30 people inside Google’s ATAP are already using ARA as their primary smartphone. They are the prototype devices. Project ARA is no longer just an experimental division of ATAP. It is now a full fledged division of Google. Developers can now sign up with Google to develop modules for Project ARA.

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