Project Ara, Google’s dream for a truly modular smartphone, has been a long parade of exciting visions of the future punctuated by disappointing delays. But Google just made a big promise that developers will be be getting their hands on a device this autumn with a consumer version due in 2017. Finally!
Although Project Ara has been on Google’s mind for years now, it’s been hampered by hardware delays. The device was originally supposed to be part of a pilot programme in Puerto Rico but that plan was axed in August.
After a year, Project Ara didn’t have much to show for all its talk of the future, but it certainly inspired the smartphone old guard to run with the idea. This year’s LG G5 adopted the modular phone principle with a removable “magic slot,” and the upcoming Moto X and iPhone 7 are rumoured to have some kind of modular features. Because guess what, accessories sell.
But where those attempts are the cosy consumer version of what a modular smartphone can be, Project Ara is the rugged frontier: a patchwork of hardware with a number of different modules that anyone can decide how to mix and match. Finally, that dream sounds like it’s almost ready.
A Wired exclusive on the reasons why it took Google so damn long was that the half-dozen modular connectors really needed to not suck.
Over the last year or so, the team also worked to standardize the modules, so that developers could actually start to build them. The key bit was redesigning the connectors on the back. Each one has to support constant connecting and reconnecting, charge things when they get plugged in, and, you know, not break or fall off. They created a proprietary port, but one that uses an open standard, UniPro. The phone has six, and each one can push up to 11.9 gigabits of data per second, in both directions. Ara chief Richard Woolridge spits out crazy edit-video-while-you-computer-vision use cases, but says the spec boils down to this: It can handle anything. And it only consumes a third as much power as USB 3.
At Google I/O, the Ara team demoed its swappable modules, swiping in an camera and snapping a pic all without rebooting the phone, for example. Google’s also released a short teaser video showing Ara in action.
No word on what pricing would be, only that it will be “high end,” but if you’re feeling adventurous, you can sign up for the a Project Ara dev unit right here.