Developer edition of Project Ara to launch later this year

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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?

source: Wired


About the Author: Jeff Causey

Raised in North Carolina, Jeff Causey is a licensed CPA in North Carolina. Jeff's past Android devices include an HTC EVO, a Samsung Note II, and an LG G3, and a Motorola Moto X Pure Edition along with a Samsung Galaxy Tablet 10.1. He currently uses a Samsung Galaxy S8 and (very rarely) a Nexus 7 (2013). He is also using a Verizon-branded Motorola Moto Z Play Droid supplied by his job. Jeff used to have a pair of Google Glass and a Moto 360 Sport in his stable of gadgets. Unfortunately, his wife and kids have all drunk the Apple Kool-Aid and have i-devices. Life at home often includes demonstrations of the superiority of his Android based devices. In his free time, Jeff is active in his church, a local MINI Cooper car club, and his daughter's soccer club. Jeff is married, has three kids, and a golden retriever.


  • Dragos Lucian

    The ability to change the processor was the main thing that made me excited about Project Ara. Now you can only add sgit modules like speakers and microphones. Only the camera is swappable. Ver very dissapointing. Thus is gonna be a complete fail.