With Google I/O 2016 wrapping up, one piece of Google technology that did not get any time in the limelight is prepping to move into the spotlight later this year. Google’s ATAP has been working on a modular phone called Project Ara for a while now and indications are that a developers edition will be launching before the end of 2016.
In a recent interview, Rafa Camargo, Project Ara’s technical project lead, shared a current version of a Project Ara device that he described as a “prototype.” The nice thing is that the device is actually working as intended even if some cosmetic issues remain to be addressed. According to Camargo, about 30 individuals within Google’s ATAP unit are using a Project Ara smartphone as their daily driver for testing purposes.
One change that has occurred since the initial concept is a move to standardize the basic frame and hardware. Originally Project Ara devices would have all pieces swappable, including things like the processor, RAM and hard drive. However, the team eventually figured out that most people do not want to worry with those factors as long as the base is solid with decent specs that they can customize with other modules that are more “playful” in nature.
To get to that point, the Project Ara team is preparing what is being described as a fairly high-end smartphone with a 5.3-inch screen. Users will have a working device when they take it out of the box with plenty of space for new modules, or “phone parts” as they are now being called, to be added to the smartphone. The modules will range from speakers, to fitness trackers, to kickstands, to pro-level cameras, to microphones, and even some that are aesthetic only.
To make all these modules work with a Project Ara device, the team spent considerable time working on a standardized module spec and connectors on the device. The team realized the modules and connectors needed to be able to withstand being popped in and out on a regular basis, they needed to be able to charge when plugged in, and be durable enough to not break or get knocked off easily. Although the ports are proprietary, the team did use an open standard called UniPro. The connections will be able to move 11.9 GB of data in both directions while consuming only one-third as much power as the current USB 3 standard. One of the interesting features will be the ability to issue a command like, “OK Google, eject the camera” to pop the module out.
One thing Camargo mentions in the interview is that the modular concept does not have to be limited to smartphones. As long as a module will work with the connector, that connector can be placed in other form factors. Thus, things like an Ara-inspired tablet or some Internet of Things form factor may be possible.
Are you interested in a Project Ara modular smartphone?