Google’s Project Ara is an effort to create modular smartphones that let you pull out the processor, battery, camera, or just about any component and replace it with a new module.

At the second Ara Developers Conference today Google announced that it would launch a pilot program in Puerto Rico later this year. But the company also showed off the latest prototype, highlighted tools that will let third party developers create their own modules, and gave us a better of what Project Ara phones will look like when they ship.

Google also released a pretty slick video showing just how easy it will be to swap out parts.

project ara_02

I was already sold on the idea of a modular smartphone that lets you replace just the parts you want rather than throwing out your phone and buying a new one every few years.

But after seeing just how easy it will be to replace a broken screen, I’m really sold on the concept… assuming Project Ara hardware can be sold at reasonable prices.

Right now if you crack the screen on your phone you can try to fix it yourself (and run the risk of making things worse) or pay a rather high price to have it repaired. With Project Ara all you’ll need to do is slide your broken screen out of the frame and slide in a new one.

You could also upgrade to a higher-resolution screen the same way — but Project Ara isn’t just about upgrades and repairs. What if you wanted to use a low-power E Ink screen instead of a power-hungry full color display? Just pull out your color screen, slide it into your bag, and pop in an ePaper screen.

The demo video also shows modules including speakers and cameras, and Google has unveiled reference designs for additional modules including processor and 3G components.

While it will likely be a while before most people can actually get your hands on a Project Ara, and the success of the endeavor will depend on the ecosystem of third-party modules Google can encourage developers to create, the whole concept looks pretty promising.

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8 replies on “Project Ara video: Swapping screens, cameras, speakers on Google’s modular phones”

  1. I really want one of these I imagine a phone that is completely carrier and os independent that can be placed in a tablet case that fits into the display port. i’d pay $100 for a 10″ pixel qi module with touch…

  2. I would’ve been a huge fan of this concept until the likes of the Motorola Moto G and the Asus Zenfone 2 launched. These smartphones are capable of pushing close to the functionality of an iPhone/higher end Android phone where you don’t feel cheated out of smartphone greatness when you’re using one, but take less than €200 out of your pocket to purchase. When great smartphones have hit that price point… where most Westerners can afford to replace them every year, it’s hard to imagine the easy-to-repair Ara taking hold in significant quantities.

    1. But with much cheaper SoC and lpddr from many more developers/makers.
      More modular phone owners will afford more expensive cam-device.
      Google have a joint-venture with Rockchip and recently announced Marvell that they develop for Project Ara mobiles.

      Just think of all SoC-brands from China today.
      Rockchip,Allwinner,HiSilicon(owned by Huawei),Nufront and now on CES announced Actions Semiconductor their developing a 64-bit SoC based on ARM-cores.

      Todays dominans of Qualcomm in SoC-business in smartphones can with Project Ara and hopefully competitors like Phonebloks and maybe Puzzlephone and Vsenn make Qualcomm less dominant in smartphones.

      1. Very interesting Maven and a damn fine point.

        My criticisms aside, what I love about this are the environmental benefits. Imagine users being freed from throwing out their phones just because the screen got smashed? 🙂

  3. How come they need to get spiral 3 “up to par”? That’s what other articles say. They said google is going to have lte running and all day battery life when it is released..
    So what are the spirals? Spiral 1/2/3? The endoskelton or the skeleton and a group of modules?

    1. They are Google codenames for project milestones. Spiral 1 was basically the original prototype that they showed booting at GoogleIO almost a year ago.

      Now they are showing off Spiral 2, where they have the basic functionality down, and is refining the design (moving the magnets to the endo side to free up room on the modules etc) and exploring what kinds of modules that can be made.

      Spiral 3 will be the final milestone before opening up their sales channels.

  4. If you like the concept, don’t just hope your favorite accessories get made, ask for them. I’m tweeting eink to make sure an eink screen is available for #projectara https://twitter.com/EInk As Brad points out, it could be a very handy item, and in addition to using it to extend battery life, you could build your own ereader. I’ve also asked Nokia to get back in the mobile keyboard game. Their sliding tilting n97 board wasn’t as good HTC’s, but it was still nice. They might not be able to make phones at the moment due to MS, but if they can make tablets, they can probably make mobile keyboards too.

    It’s a potentially democratic ecosphere, but in addition to the freedom to customize, that also creates a responsibility for us to tell manufacturers we want them involved. If Project Ara fails with Google’s back, none of these single manufacturer or startup modular options is going to produce this kind of customizability. So go tell your favorite hardware company to get involved. If you don’t, you lose the right to whine about not having enough modules later. You don’t want to lose the right to whine do you? =P

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