The concept behind Project Ara is simple: you can make your own smartphone in whatever fashion or manner you chose to. It just like assembling the Lego bricks to make shapes. So instead of having OEMs dictate the hardware in your phone, one can choose the various components of one’s smartphone.
In other words, what Google is trying to do with Project Ara is what technicians and small time technology enthusiasts have being doing for a long time now. For example, you can assemble a complete desktop pc easily by just buying the various components from wherever and from whatever parts manufacturer. All you have to do next is fixe the parts to the related modules in the frame of the pc.
For Project Ara, the intention is to give the world an Android smartphone phone that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to purchase in the long run. Almost like a complement to Facebook’s Aquila and Google’s Loon projects that aims to deliver cheaper internet access to billions around the world.
Motorola, working closely with Phoneblocks actually started and initiated the concept of the modular phone a few years ago. When Google sold Motorola to the phone maker Lenovo, Google decided to keep the team responsible (that is, The Advanced Technologies and Products Unit) for Project Ara by transferring the whole project to the Android division within Google.
Project Ara was initially billed to be launched this year in the Central American US territory of Puerto Rico. But according to tweets from the Project Ara team, the launched of the pilot phone has being postponed to a yet to be announced date in 2016. And it is also likely that Project Ara would be launched in a different city. The reason for the change of location was not made clear, but the launch date was shifted because of some structural issues associated with the performance of the finished product.
Specifically, the phone is said to have failed one of the most important structural integrity tests, the drop test. Some of the components fell apart or detached from the phone when dropped. For that reason, the Project Ara team has now decided to abandoned the use of electromagnets as a design concept for attaching the various modules to the skeleton of the the phone.
One problem that might dog the success of Project Ara is the cost of the device when it is finally ready. Obviously, it is going to be rather expensive to buy the components separately when compared to buying a whole finished phone already coupled in the OEMs factory. This problem is offset by the fact that in the long run a Project Ara device is far cheaper, almost like the initial cost of installing solar power in an apartment can be financially daunting at first. With Project Ara, you can simply upgrade to the latest hardware by just changing that particular module. For instance, one can upgrade to 3GB RAM phone by just replacing the memory module. Or one can easily change the chipset of the phone without buying a whole new rather expensive phone.
Again, the Project Ara team had had to contend with the drain on battery power. Apparently, between 20 and 30% of the battery power is used toward communication among the various modules. This is an unwelcome drain on battery resource. The unintended consequence of this is the relatively slow performance of the phone. Project Ara is looking at ways round these issues before the pilot test next year.
For us in Nigeria and other developing countries, the success of project Ara would be a serious paradigm shift on the relationship between OEMs and consumers. The power on how and what kind of smartphone we use would now shift considerably in favor of the consumer. I can now imagine myself using a massive 4GB RAM, 5.5 inch phone all assembled by me and customized to my taste in my living room while watching a Samsung Galaxy S6 advert.
Before the release of Project Ara test phone next year, whet your appetite with this demonstration video.