Google plans to launch a pilot program for its Project Ara smartphone… but that pilot won’t be in Puerto Rico as originally planned, and it won’t be in 2015 as originally planned either.

Earlier this year the company outlined vague plans for a “marketing pilot” that would allow customers to configure and purchase modular smartphones from wireless carriers in Puerto Rico. But last week the company posted messages on Twitter saying that the project would take place somewhere else.

Now Google says it’s looking for a new location, in the United States. The project will also be postponed until 2016.

project ara_04

Project Ara is an unusual idea: While smartphone manufacturers like Samsung are no longer offering removable batteries or microSD card readers in their flagship phones, Google is developing a project that would let you not only swap out batteries or storage cards, but also cameras, displays, speakers, and other hardware.

The idea is that you would be able to buy an endoskeleton which is the basic frame of a smartphone, and attach the modules you need. Many of those modules are even hot-swappable, which means you’d be able to add an extra battery or two or switch from a standard camera to an infrared camera without even rebooting the phone.

This could make phones more versatile… and it could help you hang onto your hardware for longer. Instead of replacing your phone every few years, you might only need to replace the components that you’re no longer happy with.

While that could certainly be a more environmentally-friendly way to upgrade, it’ll be interesting to see if individuals want to upgrade on a module-by-module basis rather than swapping out an entire phone for a new model. After all, wireless carriers like T-Mobile are now offering customers the option of switching phones up to 3 times a year.

Google’s been working on the technology that makes Project Ara phones possible for a few years. So why the delay in launching a pilot program? It’s not entirely clear, but the Project Ara Team posted a note on Twitter that says “Why? Lots of iterations… more than we thought,” which suggests that there may still be some logistical kinks that need to be worked out before the project is ready for a public trial.

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6 replies on “Google postpones Project Ara pilot until 2016 (modular smartphones)”

  1. I don’t see these kind of devices will attract casual users at all. In my mind this is a niche product in the consumer market, a product for the geeks.

    But in the market of professional devices there’s a different story. Today’s makers of handheld equipment will soon find themselves competing in a new arena.

    The market will have access to a cheap and “open” platform to implement their modules on. Instead of developing a purpose built device with screen, interface and probing hardware, they can focus on the probe and software.

    This will push device makers like Fluke, who make one purpose devices (which can be very expensive) out of business or adapt and start making their own modules.
    I wonder if they even are paying attention on what’s going on here.

    Long story short: As a mass market mobile phone: No. As a platform for professional data gathering: Yes.

    1. You haven´t understood the forthcoming boom in using smartphones for all kinds of sensors, swapping sensors will be difficult if you are using todays non-modular smartphones.

      American-swedish company Flir Sstems with theirs IR-sensor device for Iphone will in coming generations be much smaller and probably be one of many sensors which can be changed on Google Project Ara “grey” board.

      1. I don’t think you understood what I was trying to convey. Sorry for being unclear.
        I meant Ara won’t fly as a smartphone, it will see it’s primary use as a platform for professional modules.

        I actually had Flir on my mind, too. And I can’t imagine all other kinds of modules we’ll see. It has great potential.

  2. It’s not too long for me to wait, today’s phone market has almost nothing for me. But I fear this will scare off potential ara hardware partners and cause current partners to cut back investment, which will make users bemoan a dearth of modules, leading to a death spiral. Without hardware variety, Ara won’t work as an ecosystem. This delay is a clear red flag for cautious corporate partners and early adopter/influentials alike and could kill the ecosystem before it ever takes root.

    I hope it’s just a delay, but already long odds just got worse.

  3. It’s okay. My S4 should last that long and it will just be a better processor by then.

  4. Better to delay the roll out than mess it up by going too early. They probably only have one chance to make a good impression.

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