Google recently slashed Project Ara, the entirely modular smartphone concept they have been working on. This move is surprising since developer kits were supposed to be available late this year and commercial products would be available late 2017.
Project Ara, google’s effort to build an entirely modular smartphone has captured many tech watchers imaginations, with the sleek prototypes and possibility of upgrading individual components or swapping out certain components for different applications.
But along the way Ara has faced many challenges and shortfalls. Its initial launch last year was delayed and following that certain features that were too challenging to execute were scrapped. The chief one being the ability to hot swap components such as a processor, ram etc. Project Ara also lost its director last year.
Project Ara depending on who you ask and on a given day, Ara is either the future of smartphone technology, a forever lasting one or an impossible pipeline dream. The direction that Project Ara took this last year seems that Project Ara has become the impossible pipeline dream and here’s why.
The underlying concept of Ara is to make phones modular. Stripping a phone down into individual components threatened to slow communication between them, while also sapping battery life and making phones more expensive. To tackle this, The Ara team announced that certain components would not be hot swappable (namely CPU, GPU, Camera Module etc.) But this takes away Project Ara’s reason to exist. But this move was also necessary to make Project Ara viable NOW. That’s the underlying problem here. Project Ara’s vision was far too futuristic and there was too much pressure to produce marketable products, not just science experiments. This move is similar to some other project that Google had going, that was scrapped even though there were working prototypes. This is none other than The Google Glass. Glass, pitched as a rethinking of mobile computing from the ground up, had a limited commercial release in 2013. But it went into hibernation less than two splashy and controversial years later.
Project Ara can be best explained as living in a mid ground between a commercial product and Alphabet Inc’s Google X, which works on insane ideas such as self driving cars, AI, robotics etc, X was also responsible for Google Glass. X as explained by The New York Times is facing similar pressure to produce marketable ideas. Ara in its current stage cant produce something that will sell, this is so because all the modular phones in the market pretty much do the same thing and Ara cant bring anything entirely new or groundbreaking to the table in its current state.
So to put this all together, Project Ara was far too futuristic and its initial vision was too hard to pull off with existing technology. So it needed more time, time it did not have. Maybe the pieces Ara has left will be picked up later along the way once technology catches up to human imagination.