Google Wants To Make The Smartphone A Helluva Lot Smarter

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In 2013, technology giant Google started a modular smartphone project titled Project Ara. This initiative was originally headed by the Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) team within Motorola Mobility which was a Google subsidiary. Google sold Motorola to Lenovo but retained the ATAP group, which was placed under the stewardship of its Android development team.

The project’s goal was to make a modular smartphone with interchangeable components such as processors, displays, batteries, and cameras. Many tech watchers expressed their excitement over Project Ara which offers the possibility of upgrading individual phone components or swapping out particular components for particular applications.

Project Ara has the potential to reduce electronic waste since it will provide a longer lifecycle for the device. Consumers will not be required to purchase a new device since they can upgrade its components over time with new capabilities.

Ara’s concept design re-imagined the smartphone as a series of LEGO-style bricks that could be removed and reassembled. The inspiration of the design was high-end personal computers whose components can be replaced every couple of years. Ara has two long-term objectives including reduction of the device’s cost and resolution of the technical hurdles associated with smartphones.

Google wanted to introduce a prototype in the fourth quarter of 2016. A basic phone would cost $50, with a planned consumer launch in 2017. The starter kit would include a frame, display, battery, low-end CPU, and WiFi.

The Ara group was supposed to conduct a pilot in 2015 in Puerto Rico but Google decided to shelve the project in September 2016. According to the project’s stakeholders, making modular phones was too ambitious and costly.

Google did not release official details of the cancellation. According to Reuters, the axing of the project was part of a broader push to streamline the company’s hardware efforts. The death of Ara was a big blow to Google. This was seen by industry insiders as a sign of Google’s struggle to maintain its innovative edge.

Lead members of Project Ara’s design team included Paul Eremenko, now CEO of the Airbus Group Silicon Valley technology and business innovation center, and ATAP head Regina Dugan. Two companies were contracted to be involved with Ara. One was engineering firm NK Labs which was tapped to do firmware development. Another was 3D Systems which experimented with the 3D printing of electrical components.

Dugan cites technical challenges as one of the main reasons for Ara’s demise. According to tech website Engadget, the modular design would complicate the hardware production process. This would require Google to manufacture a bunch of smartphones and its other components including detachable cameras, battery packs, and speakers.

Google Wants To Make The Smartphone A Helluva Lot Smarter
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