Project Ara: Google reportedly kills the modular smartphone
A few months ago, Google promised we’d be seeing a developer version of the modular Project Ara smartphone towards the end of the year, with a consumer version to follow in 2017. According to a couple of people in the know speaking to Reuters, that’s not going to happen. Google has finally put the long-running project out of its development misery. Or in corporate speak, the company has abandoned it “as part of a broader push to streamline the company’s hardware efforts”.
This hasn’t been officially confirmed by the company (“a spokeswoman for Google declined to comment on the matter”), but it’s wholly believable. Over the past couple of years, the ambitious idea of allowing every element of your phone to be upgraded with interesting new modules has been downgraded from revolutionary to just not that interesting. Even the eco-friendly angle of killing off the biannual upgrade cycle was kicked to the curb when Google revealed that you wouldn’t be able to change the GPU, CPU or screen. The way the trajectory was heading, it wouldn’t have been too surprising if Google pared down the idea even further to a bunch of delightful, colourful cases.
If Google throwing in the towel on modular phones isn’t enough to put others off, it is possible that the idea could be revived. Reuters’ sources revealed that Google could potentially license out the idea to another manufacturer, but at this point, it’s hard to imagine who’d step up and take the gamble. If Google – with their billions in the bank and huge resources – decided it wasn’t worth the hassle, you’d have to be a brave CEO to have another crack at it.
For now, as close as we’ve come to modular handsets is the LG G5 – which you can now buy for £430 with an additional audio module – or the Fairphone 2, which allows you to replace the screen in 60 seconds. Google, it seems, will not be joining the party, despite their earlier promises to do so.