Google modular smartphone Project Ara killed

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Google’s modular phone concept, known as Project Ara, would never the see the light of day, at least not in the form millions of expectant users around the world had hoped. According to an exclusive report by Reuters, which has being confirmed by Venture Beat, Google decided to ax the program because they are reorganizing  their hardware division.

Google modular smartphone Project Ara killed
Modular parts created by Yezz Mobile for Project Ara, at the 2016 Mobile World Congress

 

This news would hit a lot of people hard especially in third world countries who are at the mercy of smartphone makers. At the same time, it falls into a pattern of bad news for poor communities around the world this week.

One such bad news was the destruction of the Amos-6 satellite scheduled to be launched today. The satellite was to be used to provide cheap high-speed internet service to poor communities around the world.

For now, nobody knows if the explosion of the rocket to be used to launch the satelite into orbit was just a freakish accident or sabotage. Perhaps we would never know.

Google modular smartphone Project Ara killed
Ara modular smartphone

In the case of Project Ara, we do know a lot of things concerning the decision to nix the project ahead of the planned release of the phone next year.

I was among those who were very excited at the appointment of Rick Osterloh to head Google’s hardware division back in May. The feeling was that Osterloh’s wealth of experience in managing  Motorola smartphones division would speed up the development of the modular smartphone.

However, like all typical businessmen with an eye for the bottom line, it seems Osterloh’s skills would be best served by making Google’s hardware division more profitable. The phrase been thrown around is ‘streamlining the various aspects of the hardware division.’

That is another way of saying any project that is not going to be a commercial success would be canceled. And Osterloh is the man charged with doing that. After all, he’d had experience managing a failed brand. So he knows the pitfalls to dodge to avoid the Motorola mistake.

Google modular smartphone Project Ara killed
Project Ara modules

Project Ara suffered several setbacks since it was conceived three years ago by Google’s ATAP division. The modular phone concept was based on the idea that phones could be like computers in the sense that some important components of the gadget could be removed for better ones instead of having to change the whole device. The interchangeable components include screens, batteries, cameras, storage units, phone memories, etc.

The idea was to make it possible to use a particular phone for as long as possible.

Last year, plans to test run Ara in Puerto Rico were canceled due to some technical issues according to Google. To reassure Ara fans, Google announced at this year’s I/O conference that the phone would finally be released next year.

Even the public criticisms leveled at Google by Dave Hackers on how the project was been handled did not quench people’s enthusiasm for the phone. Dave Hackers is credited with the Phonebloks concept which is where Project Ara originated from.

What now for Ara? According to sources who should know, Ara is going to be licensed to interested third parties. This could mean that a different company could build the phone with Google’s permission. Or the technology behind the phone could be licensed to other OEMs to incorporate some aspects of Ara into their own devices. Just like the way LG did with the G5.

Google modular smartphone Project Ara killed
Ara modular smartphone

For some reason the though, axing Ara did not come as a complete surprise to me. Two months ago, the news about a Google-made smartphone made the rounds.

These phone were to be totally different from the Nexus series which are actually made by other OEMs in Asia. I wondered then how a cheaper Ara would fit into the corporate structure of Google. Won’t a cheaper, novel phone like Ara slow the growth of a new smartphone from Google?

We may never know the real reasons behind the killing of Ara. What we do know are just speculations. But the bottom line is, Ara could not survive in a world where profits and losses are more important than anything.

 

image credit: Reuters; Google; theverge.com; 

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