Project ARA : Smartphones Reimagined.

Ever wondered how awesome it would be if you could just swap out the dated processor or low res camera from your old smartphone and replace with a brand new, much better component? Imagine that you can fully customize the hardware of your smartphone exactly to match your needs. Sounds too good to be true? Enter Project ARA.

project-ara

Project ARA is Google’s initiative in this direction. The official website says :

“Project Ara is a development effort to create a modular hardware ecosystem–rivaling mobile apps in the pace and level of innovation–around smartphones, with the goal of delivering the mobile internet to the next 5 billion people. Put another way, Project Ara aims to enable users to create a modular smartphone that is precisely tailored to their functional and aesthetic preferences.”

Ara Smartphones are built using modules inserted into metal endo-skeletal frames known as “endos”. These Endos are said to have a small battery of their own. The frame will be the only component in an Ara Smartphone made by Google and will be available in 3 sizes :

  1. Mini : 45 × 118 × 9.7 mm (About the size of a Nokia 3310) with 2 x 5 rear modules.
  2. Medium : 68 × 141 × 9.7 mm ( About the size of an LG Nexus 5) with 3 x 6 rear modules.
  3. Large : 91 × 164 × 9.7 mm with 4 x 7 (About the size of a Samsung Galaxy Note 3) rear modules.

The Modules will come in standard sizes of 1×1, 1×2 or 2×2 and will be made by various OEMs. The best part is that the modules can be hot swapped without turning the phone off!

Spiral_2_prototype_105.0

So far so good. But are there any manufacturers which have started work on Project ARA modules? Yes! Among confirmed companies there are Marvell and Nvidia (application processors), Toshiba (camera, display, activity measurement and other modules), Vestigen(health modules), Yezz (wide range of modules with different functionalities), InnoLux (display module), Phison in partnership with Kingston (data storage modules), Intersoft Eurasia (radiation sensor module), Sennheiser (audio modules).

project_ara_phone_detailed

Availability :

At the second Ara developers conference, Google ATAP (Advanced Technology and Projects) team announced that the Ara phone market pilot would be released in Puerto Rico in 2015 (probably in the 4th quarter). While this seems to be sort of a Soak Test, it is surely a step ahead towards the release of the first ARA smartphone.

Demo Video (YouTube) : Project ARA update at Google I/O 2015

Expected Price :

The cheapest base version of the Ara phone is set to be priced at about $50-$100. Individual modules will vary in price from $10 to $300 or even higher, depending on module functionality. The phones and the modules will be packed into nicely looking kits. According to Jessica Beavers from Google ATAP marketing team, customers will be able to buy standard ready-to-go phone kits, or assemble their own unique device using modules they choose.

google-project-ara-small-medium

Conclusion :

Project ARA truly represents the smartphone of the future. It’s the obvious next step. But while it may be exciting to the consumers due to increased customization and lesser cost than buying a brand new smartphone, major smartphone OEMs may not be so happy as this would mean a huge blow to the premium they charge for their branded smartphones. Things are expected to change however as this concept gains more traction from major manufacturers and comes closer to becoming a reality.

-Animesh

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