2015 could be the beginning of a significant shift in the smartphone landscape. Imagine a modular smartphone that you could assemble and customize yourself. Need three cameras? Need an extra battery? Project Ara may bring us the smartphones of the future and the future is near.
Project Ara is part of the Advanced Technology and Projects Group. The group is what Google retained in its sale of Motorola Mobility to Lenovo. Project Ara is an innovative plan to build an open-source smartphone hardware platform. Users would start with a base piece of hardware known as the Endo. Features – like extra batteries, cameras, GPS, etc. – would be added to the Endo as modules.
The hot-swappable modules give users the ability to truly customize a smartphone that works exactly how they want it to work. Power users could easily add a second battery. If your cell phone is your main camera, users could add the highest quality camera module.
Smart Phones of the Future:
Availability: An introductory phone is expected some time in 2015.
Cost: Google is planning on releasing two versions – a low-cost and upscale model. Production cost will range from $50 to $500.
Size: The size is in line with an iPhone or Samsung Galaxy phone.
Modules: The feature tiles known as modules will connect to the phone’s skeleton, known as the Endo via electropermanent magnets. When the magnets are hit with an “On” electrical pulse they will create a solid bond between the Endo and module. When they are hit with an “Off” pulse, the magnets will release the bond and you can replace the module. The magnets don’t need a constant charge to keep a bond. These modules will be created by various developers using the open source MDK that was released today. Cameras, antennas, batteries, processors, and anything that can be fit into a module shell will be available. The shells of those modules will be 3D printed to a user’s specified design.
Buying Modules: Google will have an e-commerce site that will work alongside the Google Play store. You will be able to purchase modules online much the same way you now purchase apps online.
Updating Android: Currently, Android doesn’t support a modular system, but the operating system is being updated to support it, with an expected release date of early 2015.
Prototype: A pre-production prototype will be shown off in September of this year. The current prototype shown off at the Project ARA event doesn’t have the electropermanent magnet system. It uses clips to keep the modules in place. The power bus is also still being worked on.
Modules Can Have Different Functions: A module can support as many features as a developer can cram into it. A rear-facing display module could also be a tiny battery to offset the power drain of the display. If it fits within the module’s physical constraints, it’s good to go.
Why You Should Care: Project Ara phones are expected to have a life of five to six years – far longer than your current smartphone. Instead of updating your phone every two years, you save up for the latest modules. The goal is that when a new processor or high-megapixel camera is introduced, it’ll be available as a module for Ara owners to purchase.
Why Developers Should Care: The modular system is a way for developers to create a device that plugs directly into a phone with having to design and build a third-party piece of hardware. It removes the much of the industrial design elements and having to deal with Bluetooth or Wi-Fi radios for connectivity.