Google’s Project Ara still has a long way to go before modular smartphones become a thing

project ara modules

Google will release a modular smart device in January 2015, according to the the leader of Project Ara, Paul Eremenko. This is the first time Google has given an estimate of when its ambitious smartphone hardware platform will go on sale.

Details about Google’s modular phone are coming out of the Project Ara developers conference taking place at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View Wednesday. The conference is technical and there’s a lot to process for developers. But we can glean a few more facts about Google’s customizable smartphone.

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The core of Project Ara is a barebones piece of hardware called a Endo. An Endo doesn’t need to be a fully functioning phone; the first planned Endo, called a “gray phone,” will only include Wi-Fi, a processor, screen and battery, and will have an estimated production cost of around $50. The release for the gray phone is tentatively planned for January 2015, which is also when Google plans to start selling the modules that expand hardware functionality. There is a high-end model with a production cost of $500 planned, as well as multiple sizes, eventually.

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We’ve also got a good idea about how the modules will be standardized: in 20mm “blocks.” A prototype revealed on stage had room for two different sizes of module: two blocks by one block, and two blocks by two blocks.

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Project Ara is developed by Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects group, which was the piece of Motorola Google kept after its sale to Lenovo. While it may be an experimental project, the team hopes to have a viable product in under two years using a project management framework borrowed from DARPA. Dieter Bohn over at the Verge has a stellar examination of the self-imposed constraints the three-person team is working under.

But no amount of military-inspired hacking could hide that Project Ara still has a lot left to be done. Modules attached to the prototype on stage were connected through clips, instead of the fascinating electromagnetic system previously announced. The prototype on stage yesterday did not even boot fully. Android does not yet support Ara-style hardware.

 

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