Google showcase Project Ara modular smartphone and its potential is staggering
Google Ara is looking like a real game-changer and a sign of things to come.
Project Glasses isn't the only exciting thing going on at Google at the moment because the company are also working on Project Ara, which is their quest to build a modular smartphone.
A modular smartphone is one in which the components and parts can be interchanged and upgraded over time by a user. Basically, you buy a 'shell' and then slot in the components you require, so you might add a 1080p display, a quad-core processor and an 8 mega-pixel camera.
Google recently showcased a non-functional prototype of the modular smartphone, which is due to be called the Google Ara. They also went into great depth about the features of the smartphone and we were blown away by the potential of the 'Lego phone'.
The prototype 'Endoskeleten' has slots for both 2*2, 2*1 and 1*1 holders on the rear, which will contain the chips used for the major features of the smartphone and are held in place using magnets. You could also take out and change the display, as well as a front-facing module below the display.
Modules (or holders) can contain anything from a processor, camera, speaker, battery, LTE chip, keyboard and much more. It also opens up the possibility to include features that would never make it into mainstream devices, such as a 'medical sensors' or 'weather readers'.
The chassis has a small built-in battery to enable users to hot-swap parts and Google are aiming for it to cost just $15. They also hope to make a 'Grey Phone' available with a display, low-end processor, battery and WiFi support for $50, which is the crossover point between feature phones and smartphones.
The major selling point for users is that they can customise a smartphone exactly as they want. For example, you might want a high-end processor, but arn't interested in a high-end camera - no problem, with Google Ara you can choose to leave out the camera entirely or put in a low-end snapper.
Users will no longer have to upgrade their whole smartphone every couple of years because they'll be able to update their smartphone over time. When a new faster processor comes out you merely buy the module and slide it into the 'Endoskeleton'.
Google have also confirmed that different sizes chassis will be available with a 'Mini' 4-inch and a larger 'Phablet' version joining the standard 5-inch version. They'll also utilise the same 2*2, 2*1 and 1*1 grids, enabling users to change between form-factors as they please.
The potential for changing devices is made easier by an 'Identity Chip', which stores all of a users settings and contacts. That would enable you to easily lend a smartphone to a friend by removing the chip, or to use another persons device if your battery goes flat by sliding your 'Identity Chip' into their device.
Completely open and you can print your own
Google revealed that anyone will be able to produce modules and get them on the market, so a camera manufacturer could put together their own module and get it on sale with no barriers to entry. However, to get on Google's own store you'll need to be certified.
Even more exciting is the revelation that users will be able to use a 3D printer to make their own customised holders, which essentially act as the smartphones' case. They also added that it will be possible to print your own chips, which is a truly bewildering prospect and a real glimpse into the future of electronics.
Overall, the modular smartphone seems like a stunning concept and great news for consumers. However, there have to be concerns about how the wider mobile world will feel about Google's project - it's bound to cut their profits and fragment the market.
Google will be holding a developer conference on April 15-16th where they'll showcase a working prototype of the smartphone and much more. Roll on April because we're very excited to see Google's modular smartphone in-action!
What do you think about the Google Ara modular smartphone? Let us know by leaving a comment below.
Checkout the full launch event for Project Ara in the video above (from the 6 minute mark to around 29 minutes). *Edit: the video has now been made private :(