Google hosted its first Project Ara developers conference last week, where it finally revealed more detailed information on its modular smartphone project. Ara is currently in the hands of the firm's Advanced Technologies and Products (ATAP) team, who have been tasked with turning an idea into a real, physical product that Google hopes to sell to the entire world at various price points as early as January 2015.
There are plenty of benefits to having an almost completely customizable phone. We've already covered a bit of the background on what Project Ara is, but we'll sum it up again really quickly. Basically, Google is aiming to create a smartphone with modules that you can purchase and upgrade at any time. It's being headed by some of the brightest minds inside Google, some of whom also once worked for DARPA.
Right now it's still being considered a "moonshot," which means there's no real guarantee it will ever work. However, Google already seems to be well on its way and is aiming to get the first Project Ara smartphones on the market in just nine months. Let's go over some of the benefits that such a device will offer.
A Super Affordable base price
One of the primary goals behind Project Ara is to create a smartphone that can help connect the 5 billion people on earth without a smartphone. Right now, Google says its entry level "Grey Phone" model will cost just $50 to produce, which means the consumer price shouldn't be much more. That means Project Ara smartphones could be even more attractive than the Moto G, which is already priced for emerging smartphone markets.
Ultimately, the entry-level Ara smartphone could potentially be the most affordable option available anywhere. Such a smartphone wouldn't have the latest specs – but a modular device would allow anyone to upgrade certain parts of it later. That also applies to repair costs: technically, if a part goes bad, you can replace it easily without having to buy a new phone.
Today, most smartphones start to feel outdated mere months after they're launched. Sadly, most of us are locked into two-year contracts with our phones, which means they feel like dinosaurs (and look worse) by the time we're able to upgrade again.
The general idea behind a modular smartphone like Ara is to give you a base platform that can last for up to six years, and that you can constantly upgrade. Right now there are plans for mini, medium and large skeletons. It's kind of like how you build your own PC, but with a smartphone and much more swappable parts.
This builds on the last two points. Ara aims to provide almost total customization, so you can either spend a lot for the best parts or spend enough just to get started. It's sort of like the same way PC building goes, but as simple as using Legos.
Maybe you're a real hardware head and you want the best processor on the market. Great, you can keep buying the best processor and swapping it into your phone each time one launches. Or, maybe you want to save on costs with a mid-range processor and a high-end camera — you can do that, and you'll have the option to add a faster processor after you save a bit more cash.
Google is also looking at 3D printed designs, too, so you'll have various color options to choose from.
Easily Swappable Parts
Sure, the idea of custom modules is awesome, but what makes Project Ara even cooler is that each module isn't glued on, or screwed on, they're held in place by electromagnets. That means you won't need any knowledge of the parts or special tools to upgrade your phone.
You can pop on a new battery while you're in the car, maybe lend your awesome camera module to your wife for her Project Ara phone one weekend, or buy your kids a new processor for their Project Ara phone as a gift. I think that's what makes this project so attractive, you won't really need a whole lot of knowledge to tweak your phone.
You'll Be Able to Buy Modules and Skeletons Direct from Google
The current plan is for Google to sell the "Grey Phone" skeletons and the modules direct to consumers. If Ara takes off, and hopefully it does, you'll be able to visit an online store where you can choose from a mini, medium or large skeleton and then select the modular components that you want. It should work similar to how Google says its Google Play Edition devices direct to consumers.
Each time you upgrade, just head to the Google Store. There don't appear to be any plans for after-market sales yet, but that could be another benefit: easily selling off the old parts you no longer need to people who want them.