Most Wanted: Project Ara
Google’s hotly anticipated do-it-and-update-it-yourself mobile is ready for developers to get working on. Things are about to change… Then change again
Google’s new smartphone design could be a sign of what the future holds
We’ve been looking forward intently to Google’s Project Ara for some time, now. A modular smartphone where you choose the components, and update them as technology moves on, it might just be the bespoke, future-proof gadget of our dreams. More likely, it’ll be a sort of smartphone answer to Raspberry Pi, but that’s cool enough. This month we moved a step closer to finding out.
Google has begun shipping the MDK (that’s module developers’ kit, not Murder Death Kill) to cherry-picked devs who successfully applied for the privilege. It hopes they’ll have components ready for the first handsets, when they hit Stateside shelves in January 2015, at the comfortably low price of US$50.
More so than with Android, where it’s pretty proprietorial, Google plans to be completely hands-off with Project Ara, setting the system parameters up, then leaving it for hardware and software developers to do as they will with. Obviously, once it’s been handed over to external developers, the search giant will continue to support the ecosystem. At least until it gets bored and moves on to the next innovation on its list…
Ara will be built around three different sizes of “endoskeleton” – what Google calls the aluminium base plates to which components are added. A spine and ribs divide the handset into standardised module spaces, each with an electro-magnet to snap modules into place. A standard electrical bus provides power and allows for data transfer.
The large, medium and mini sizes of the endoskeleton handsets correspond to the number of single modules that can be added: 28, 18 and 10 respectively – more powerful modules will generally take up more space on the grid. You’ll be able to have anything from an all-encompassing handset costing thousands, with the very latest upgrades, or a much smaller, simpler device consisting of only the bare essentials at a fraction of the cost.
A particularly nifty idea is that Project Ara will allow you to hot-swap modules while using the handset without having to turn it off first. The endoskeleton even incorporates a small backup battery so the main one can be swapped during use. While each phone will accept only official modules by default, a quick change of the software settings means you’re good to go with third-party creations.
What with this, Google Glass, self-aware cars, a rumoured VR headset, smart contact lenses and, to a lesser extent, the latest version of Android, there’s no doubt that Google is the tech world’s premier innovation driver right now. Here’s hoping the delivery on Project Ara matches the bountiful promise. US$50, projectara.com, out in US January 2015, Aus tralia TBC
Project Ara lets you slot components of your choice into frames