The Best Look Yet at Google's Project Ara Modular Smartphone

The Best Look Yet at Google's Project Ara Modular Smartphone

3G is on board, 4G is on the way, and testing will take place in Puerto Rico.

During a Module Developers Conference at Google HQ in Mountain View today, the tech giant showed of its latest Project Ara modular smartphone designs, and talked plans for hardware testing later this year.

Called "Spiral Two," the latest hardware is our best look at modular phone hardware yet. The gallery below is all photos provided by Google, showing just how specific you can get with Google's phone of the future.

The Spiral Two hardware is the latest iteration; Spiral One was WiFi-only hardware, while Two has 3G modules in tow. The next iteration, whenever it becomes available, will likely bring Project Ara into the 4G LTE era.

Another key aspect of Spiral Two, and beyond is developer support. While specific apps and software could come for such devices, what Google really wants is approved third-party modules. Project Ara will undoubtedly have enough Google-made modules to choke an Android, bringing other hardware vendors -- big and small -- into the fold is seen as crucial for the project's long-term success.

And who gets to test the Phase Two hardware later this year? Puerto Rico. Google will be partnering with local carriers in the U.S. territory in Q3 or Q4, selling the base unit as well as modules. Hardware will also be sold out of a fleet of Project Ara trucks, bringing the new phones to the masses directly.

In the gallery above, you can see that everything -- and we mean everything -- in the Project Ara ecosystem can be swapped out. The display, camera sensor, CPU, and storage can all be upgraded (or downgraded). And if Google can pull off robust third-party vendor support? You could finally build that "no compromise" smartphone you've been looking for.

Source: Google

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I am definitely for this project. One late night I forgot to remove my smartphone from my pocket and ended up in the wash next day. Everything works... except the screen, and from what I can tell it's been soldered or glued to the metal frame so it's not really a replaceable part. But with Ara, it's an easy unsnap and slide out replacement.

...In fact, I'd say that screens is probably going to be the most replaced part on these phones.

The reason I'm a PC gamer and the reason I'm yet to get any sort of "smartphone" (I have a Nokia on pay-as-you-go that cost me less than the credit that came free on it) are one and the same. I've never liked the closed, take-it-or-leave-it type systems of consoles and smartphones, especially when smartphones become outdated so quickly. If I'm to spend £500 on something I want to keep it for a while without having to buy a whole new one and get used to a new design when I'm only dissatisfied with one bit of it. You wouldn't buy a whole new car if the windscreen were to crack, so why would you buy a whole new phone when its screen does.

I am totally on board with this system. Obviously, we need a fully functional model with fully functional components, and that will probably be the biggest obstacle. Who wants to spend money developing a modular camera for a device that doesn't have a modular screen to go with it. Assuming they can get manufacturers on board, this could change the way people interact with their phones, but there will be plenty of people who like the idea that their phone is just one machine that "just works" for them. I'm not one of those people.

Looking at the future, I predict that this project, as awesome as it is, is at least 5 years out to hitting retail. At least. Ambitious, yes. Fantastic, yes. Threatening to the entrenched mobile hardware providers out there? Absolutely!

Aaaaaand that's the problem: every single one of the current mobile hardware manufacturers has a reason to try to suppress this, and we're talking about some industry giants here, so...

I'll be damn excited if and when it does hit the shelves, however; I mean, there hasn't been a phone that I've had yet that doesn't have a touted 'feature' that I care nothing about and feel as if I'm paying for it anyway.

Oh, I so want this. I hate having to conform to some corporation's idea of 'what the cool kids like'. I want something I can take apart and rebuild just the way I like it. This seems close to that, though I wonder how crazy it can get. For instance, can you attach two cameras, one on each end, and film things in 3D?

This is great, now pickpockets will only have to steal a part of my phone and not the whole thing.

I'm not really interested in a modular phone right now, but I'm happy to see progress being made on the concept and interest growing. The swappable screen thing is the one major aspect that many will like.

I always tell people looking for a new PC to not buy an all in one or proprietary small form factor desktop, because, if something breaks, many proprietary parts will be hard to find and will hit the wallet harder than an industry standard equivalent. Also, if the screen goes out on an all in one, you're either plugging in a spare monitor and having this flat PC tower take up space, or you're still doing that temporarily and also looking for a replacement panel, while trying to avoid sticker shock. Maybe someday I'll say the same about cell phones.

solidstatemind:
Looking at the future, I predict that this project, as awesome as it is, is at least 5 years out to hitting retail. At least. Ambitious, yes. Fantastic, yes. Threatening to the entrenched mobile hardware providers out there? Absolutely!

Aaaaaand that's the problem: every single one of the current mobile hardware manufacturers has a reason to try to suppress this, and we're talking about some industry giants here, so...

I'll be damn excited if and when it does hit the shelves, however; I mean, there hasn't been a phone that I've had yet that doesn't have a touted 'feature' that I care nothing about and feel as if I'm paying for it anyway.

I'm sure if the big mobile powerhouses don't find a way to downplay the benefits of this the general public or undermine the progress being made, they will definitely try to get into selling their own modules or their own dumbed down take on the concept.

And, I sure don't care about having the latest hi-res screens and cameras, bleeding edge processors, front facing cameras, 4k output or Amiibo/Skylanders/Disney Infinety NFC compatability (I bet that's the next dumb thing they try to cram in a phone.), but I would like the ability to swap out a part for something newer once the early adopters helpfully drop the price to levels I don't mind paying. But we know the manufacturers don't like that kind of thinking.

Alexander Kirby:
The reason I'm a PC gamer and the reason I'm yet to get any sort of "smartphone" (I have a Nokia on pay-as-you-go that cost me less than the credit that came free on it) are one and the same. I've never liked the closed, take-it-or-leave-it type systems of consoles and smartphones, especially when smartphones become outdated so quickly. If I'm to spend £500 on something I want to keep it for a while without having to buy a whole new one and get used to a new design when I'm only dissatisfied with one bit of it. You wouldn't buy a whole new car if the windscreen were to crack, so why would you buy a whole new phone when its screen does.

I am exactly the same. I've only bought 3 phones in my entire 30 years of life, and I've always used a prepaid card.
The only reason I even have a smartphone right now is because I got if for free from some one who didn't need it anymore.
This modular smarthpone is the only real smartphone I'd ever willingly spend money on.

Alexander Kirby:
The reason I'm a PC gamer and the reason I'm yet to get any sort of "smartphone" (I have a Nokia on pay-as-you-go that cost me less than the credit that came free on it) are one and the same. I've never liked the closed, take-it-or-leave-it type systems of consoles and smartphones, especially when smartphones become outdated so quickly. If I'm to spend £500 on something I want to keep it for a while without having to buy a whole new one and get used to a new design when I'm only dissatisfied with one bit of it. You wouldn't buy a whole new car if the windscreen were to crack, so why would you buy a whole new phone when its screen does.

The moto G is only about £140, and has everything you need to last for the foreseeable future as long as you look after it. I've had my nexus 4 since release, its similarly specced and is still going strong. I wont be getting a new one till it breaks beyond repair.

flarty:

Alexander Kirby:
The reason I'm a PC gamer and the reason I'm yet to get any sort of "smartphone" (I have a Nokia on pay-as-you-go that cost me less than the credit that came free on it) are one and the same. I've never liked the closed, take-it-or-leave-it type systems of consoles and smartphones, especially when smartphones become outdated so quickly. If I'm to spend £500 on something I want to keep it for a while without having to buy a whole new one and get used to a new design when I'm only dissatisfied with one bit of it. You wouldn't buy a whole new car if the windscreen were to crack, so why would you buy a whole new phone when its screen does.

The moto G is only about £140, and has everything you need to last for the foreseeable future as long as you look after it. I've had my nexus 4 since release, its similarly specced and is still going strong. I wont be getting a new one till it breaks beyond repair.

And if you want to save a few tenners extra you can go for the Moto E, which is basically a slightly toned down Moto G. It's a little smaller (which I actually prefer), lacks a front-cam and has a dual-core CPU instead of a quad-core. And for your average smartphone usage it's more than enough. The E and G are pretty much the best budget phones on the market right now and I doubt even Project Ara can dive under that price. I've been extremely happy with my Moto E for the last few months; it's sturdy and compact and its hardware is more than enough to run the stuff the average smartphone user needs smoothly. It helps that it comes with nearly stock Android. No bells and whistles, just straightforward functionality.

However, I do think that whenever I'm going to need a new smartphone, which'll take a few years I hope, I'm going for this. The customization is just way too cool not to.

The first half of the spot was intriguing.
Then the phone threatened to assimilate me.

All hail our Google overlords. Seriously, though. Being able to upgrade the disk space would be good enough for me. Fully modular has me giddy as long as the parts aren't super expensive and the OS isn't terrible.

Obligatory video:

I.E. Give a release date, or I don't give a fucking fuck.

Mark my words: this will fail harder than Google Wave. When people see how needlessly bulky and expensive these are compared to other smartphones, any advantage of modular design will be forgotten. Yet another case of Google trying to solve a problem that never existed in the first place.

No compromises, except for size, weight, water resistance...

flarty:
The moto G is only about £140, and has everything you need to last for the foreseeable future as long as you look after it. I've had my nexus 4 since release, its similarly specced and is still going strong. I wont be getting a new one till it breaks beyond repair.

Well my phone was only £10 and it does everything I need even if I don't look after it! It rings people, it texts people, it plays solitaire, it even has this game that I can only describe as being a very simple version of a Terraria/Spelunky cross-over game. What more could you possibly need in life?

Alexander Kirby:

flarty:
The moto G is only about £140, and has everything you need to last for the foreseeable future as long as you look after it. I've had my nexus 4 since release, its similarly specced and is still going strong. I wont be getting a new one till it breaks beyond repair.

Well my phone was only £10 and it does everything I need even if I don't look after it! It rings people, it texts people, it plays solitaire, it even has this game that I can only describe as being a very simple version of a Terraria/Spelunky cross-over game. What more could you possibly need in life?

Erm, mp3 player? satnav? internet browser on the go?

flarty:
Erm, mp3 player? satnav? internet browser on the go?

pfffffftt

In all seriousness though I've never actually had the need for any of those. Its a very personal thing and it's probably a lot to do with where I live and the job I have. I can see how they would be very useful and convenient if it's what you want, I've just never had the need.

And call me weird but I've always thought SatNavs took the fun out of driving.

solidstatemind:
Looking at the future, I predict that this project, as awesome as it is, is at least 5 years out to hitting retail. At least. Ambitious, yes. Fantastic, yes. Threatening to the entrenched mobile hardware providers out there? Absolutely!

Aaaaaand that's the problem: every single one of the current mobile hardware manufacturers has a reason to try to suppress this, and we're talking about some industry giants here, so...

I'll be damn excited if and when it does hit the shelves, however; I mean, there hasn't been a phone that I've had yet that doesn't have a touted 'feature' that I care nothing about and feel as if I'm paying for it anyway.

Because those giants will step all over that small indy company Google :P
Google has already produced smartphones at a loss just to get people under their wing.

I'm really looking forward to this...

Alexander Kirby:
The reason I'm a PC gamer and the reason I'm yet to get any sort of "smartphone" (I have a Nokia on pay-as-you-go that cost me less than the credit that came free on it) are one and the same. I've never liked the closed, take-it-or-leave-it type systems of consoles and smartphones, especially when smartphones become outdated so quickly. If I'm to spend £500 on something I want to keep it for a while without having to buy a whole new one and get used to a new design when I'm only dissatisfied with one bit of it. You wouldn't buy a whole new car if the windscreen were to crack, so why would you buy a whole new phone when its screen does.

I agree with you reasoning - that's why I'm a PC gamer myself as well (I do have a smartphone though), but I have to point out that screen replacements are available, but they take a bit of work which would probably include some screwing and gluing (sex joke in there somewhere). You can either buy a repair kit, which includes replacement parts for a specific phone and do it yourself, or pay someone to do it for you.

Are there people out there who actually buy a new smartphone just because their screen got cracked?

Avaholic03:
Mark my words: this will fail harder than Google Wave. When people see how needlessly bulky and expensive these are compared to other smartphones, any advantage of modular design will be forgotten. Yet another case of Google trying to solve a problem that never existed in the first place.

Except it will not and their was a problem. The problem is that with current smartphones is if just one part breaks (like the screen), becomes worn out, or obsolete for you needs then you have to buy a whole new phone. The idea with modular designs like this or phoneblocks, you can just replace the parts you need with is cheaper then buying a whole new phone.

SirAroun:

Avaholic03:
Mark my words: this will fail harder than Google Wave. When people see how needlessly bulky and expensive these are compared to other smartphones, any advantage of modular design will be forgotten. Yet another case of Google trying to solve a problem that never existed in the first place.

Except it will not and their was a problem. The problem is that with current smartphones is if just one part breaks (like the screen), becomes worn out, or obsolete for you needs then you have to buy a whole new phone. The idea with modular designs like this or phoneblocks, you can just replace the parts you need with is cheaper then buying a whole new phone.

Right, and everything will be high priced to make up for the planned obsolesence of the current makers who want phones to be a yearly disposable purchase, which is why none of them have real plans for better battery life

Hairless Mammoth:

And, I sure don't care about having the latest hi-res screens and cameras, bleeding edge processors, front facing cameras, 4k output or Amiibo/Skylanders/Disney Infinety NFC compatability (I bet that's the next dumb thing they try to cram in a phone.), but I would like the ability to swap out a part for something newer once the early adopters helpfully drop the price to levels I don't mind paying. But we know the manufacturers don't like that kind of thinking.

Phones have had NFC compatibility for a very long time now. The current dumb thing they're pushing with phones is 4K screens, because, you know I absolutely need a phone with a resolution that only like maybe 10% of produced media actually uses, and most of that is PC games, which don't run on these things anyway.

I've been interested in something like this for ages, I hope it takes off, so that I can build my own personal phone once my current one dies.

I do like the idea, not so much for phones but to be able to put any of their parts to use somewhere else sounds pretty damn dope, further more as you add new items the old ones can be used on. It is no small standards control challenge however, so we will need to wait and see how they pull it off.

The other side is the average smart phone ultra consumer, they want a new looking toy every year. While they might jump on this wagon when it first comes out they will also be going elsewhere the moment something else is out, so all the big money might dry up long before it ever gets to the upgrade modules.

Now give it iOS and its perfect!

 

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