Google has officially suspended shipping of Project Ara, its most ambitious and most awaited modular smartphone concept, to developers this fall, according to a company spokesperson.
The project was one of the flagship efforts of Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects group, the people behind the lacklustre Google Glass and Nexus Q devices.
The decision to ditch the effort was reportedly made by none other than Google’s hardware chief and former Motorola president Rick Osterloh, who’s been trying to divert the company’s focus on their ostensibly disorganised product line-up.
It’s A Slippery Slope
Project Ara consists of hardware modules providing typical smartphone components, such as displays, processors, cameras, and batteries. It also has other modules adding more specialised components and a frame where the modules are to be attached. This design would allow a device to be upgraded on the fly with new features and specifications – a feat that typically involves buying a new phone every year or two – and therefore providing a longer device lifespan and reducing electronic waste. But revisions were introduced into the concept, resulting in a base phone with non-upgradeable components, with modules providing only supporting features.
But it isn’t as simple as it sounds. For IT Services Australia and other tech communities, compatibility between modules is a major concern.
Suppose you want to upgrade your camera, but what are the required components? If for example, the 1 GB RAM isn’t enough to handle the new camera and everything else with it, then that’s another upgrade you have to get. You’ll be scratching your head figuring out which add-ons work good together – if they ever will.
The software is also a big concern. While the components sync in together, the software in it might be outdated, just like Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 800 and 801 SoCs, which will not be getting their Android Nougat updates because it doesn’t support them. It’s an issue that completely complicates Ara’s modular feature.
It’s a Bad Idea
Google isn’t the only one that attempted to go modular on their smartphones. LG also tried to go modular with their LG G5, but the reception they got was mixed. People who tried the phone out say the pieces doesn’t fit right, and the components are quite costly and irrelevant – something that Project Ara could have solved.
But even if Google could get a product to market and Ara grabbing support from third-party manufacturers, the result is still quite messy. And it’s clear that Ara is still not ready for consumer use as evident at I/O 2015 that the device didn’t manage to scale well in the event. It barely even turned on during the unveiling.
Goodbye For Now
Project Ara had many challenges and shortfalls in its lifetime. Delays in its initial rollout in Puerto Rico via Latin American carriers; planned features stripped out from the project, and, the worst part, its head engineer left for a greener pasture reason.
Modular smartphones generated great enthusiasm amongst IT companies especially managed IT services in Melbourne because of their great potential. But it’s still no surprise to see Google ditch another one of its ambitious inventions.
It is indeed an unsuccessful science experiment, but Google life must move on.