Google is giving away 100 of its Project Ara modular smartphones

Earlier this year, Google announced Project Ara, an ongoing research effort into designing a smartphone with modular components that can be easily removed and replaced as desired. Unlike a conventional handset, which comes pre-assembled and cannot be upgraded, the idea behind Ara is that you would purchase a basic 'shell' into which components - such as camera, processor, RAM, and the like - would slot in, and new modules could be bought to upgrade the device at will. 

Google has big ambitions for the project and reportedly plans to launch it commercially at the beginning of next year, with the core shell of the device costing as little as $50. As The Next Web reports, the next step in moving towards launch is to get Ara into the hands of real-world users, and the company is now preparing to do just that. 

Google says that over 90,000 people applied to be among the first to test the device, but of that number, just 100 have been selected to receive the handset. These 'Ara scouts' are located around the world, and the company says that their "passion and creativity were - and are - instrumental in turning an idea into a product". 

The 100 scouts will receive the device free of charge, marking a change of approach compared with the company's Project Glass. Google continues to charge early adopters of Glass, known as 'Explorers', $1500 (or £1000 in the UK) for the privilege of helping it to refine the product in its "open beta".

Source: Dscout via The Next Web

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I'm trying to figure out how manufacturers will be OK with this.

Usually... they sell a $300 or $600 phone to someone... and then they sell another $300 or $600 phone to that same person in a couple years.

I'm having a hard time believing that they'll let you extend the life of that initial purchase by just upgrading an individual part at a much lower cost.

I mean... it makes sense to the consumer... you can keep the screen and the CPU and just get a new camera, for instance.

But for the manufacturer... it would be a huge blow to their business.

This concept has been compared to the PC market... where you can upgrade your video card and keep everything else the same.

But smartphones are a completely different kind of product.

And then there's the issue of value. We don't yet know how much any of this will cost... but hear me out.

Let's say you upgrade the camera module after one year. So you've got a brand new camera and one year old CPU/GPU, screen, etc.

But while you're paying for just the camera module... someone else could get a brand new phone with brand new EVERYTHING for just a little bit more.

I guess it will depend on how much it will cost... and the availability of these supposed upgraded parts.

It would suck if you bought into this system... but the parts took 2 years to come out.

Then you would have been better off just buying a traditional smartphone.

Edited by Michael Scrip, Jul 3 2014, 5:37pm :

This might be opening up the PC market again, in a whole new direction. Only this time it is running Android instead of Windows.

You can run Android on a PC *today* - see my own thread "Android x86 - KitKat meets Kentsfield?" in the Android forum. It's no harder to use than Knoppix or a Linux distribution live CD (and can replace either one, let alone Windows). Android has hardware requirements in line with (if not less than) XP. However, as much as some users despise Microsoft (or even Windows) they aren't going to leave Windows until someone offers them what they have been getting WITH Windows. (The complaints with Windows 8+ are twofold - the Start menu is gone and that Windows offers too MUCH - not that it doesn't offer enough.) The complainants want a SMALLER Windows - not no Windows at all.

Consumers will determine that, but if you don't try at all, you'll never succeed.
It might fail, be a moderate success, or spark a new direction of phones.

ACTIONpack said,

Will fail before release


Nice bit of optimism there!

Sure it'll fail miserably before it goes public ... in your opinion.

Even if it does get released, nobody will buy it. Would you rather have a galaxy S7, or this modular phone which is bulkier, slower and has worse battery life? Because there's no way to design a phone like this with the same performance and compactness as a fully integrated phone.

BigCheese said,
Even if it does get released, nobody will buy it. Would you rather have a galaxy S7, or this modular phone which is bulkier, slower and has worse battery life? Because there's no way to design a phone like this with the same performance and compactness as a fully integrated phone.

slower and has worse battery life?

Depends, if the core is nothing but the frame, but the cpu/memory are merged and is the motherboard / integrated part. I think this falls under wait and see.

BigCheese said,
Even if it does get released, nobody will buy it. Would you rather have a galaxy S7, or this modular phone which is bulkier, slower and has worse battery life? Because there's no way to design a phone like this with the same performance and compactness as a fully integrated phone.

Thanks for attempting to speak for all users out there. I think you are a nobody. Who are you to speak for everyone?

ACTIONpack said,
Will fail before release

Care to offer an explanation why? This is something, all albeit pretty ambitious, project that could take off but that depends on users. good idea tho since it theory, could make upgrading smart phones cheaper and easier.

BigCheese said,
Even if it does get released, nobody will buy it. Would you rather have a galaxy S7, or this modular phone which is bulkier, slower and has worse battery life? Because there's no way to design a phone like this with the same performance and compactness as a fully integrated phone.

How do you know how the modular smartphone performs? Has it been released yet? Tested? In the hands of people? And yes, I would rather have this that the bloated slow TW Samsung phones any day of the week.

techbeck said,

How do you know how the modular smartphone performs?

They've already said they're going to get 25% less battery life out of the thing, and it's going to be bigger.

That's a no-brainer due to the overhead. Open a cellphone. Look how tightly integrated it is.

That all depends on what components you have installed/added to the device. I imagine battery life will differ depending on what hardware it has. not only that, you can also use one of the slots to add an extra battery thus increasing your battery life.

techbeck said,
That all depends on what components you have installed/added to the device. I imagine battery life will differ depending on what hardware it has. not only that, you can also use one of the slots to add an extra battery thus increasing your battery life.

It [u]must[/u] be some combination of: slower, heavier/bigger, worse battery life.

There's just no way around that. It's a physical reality.

techbeck said,

Care to offer an explanation why? This is something, all albeit pretty ambitious, project that could take off but that depends on users. good idea tho since it theory, could make upgrading smart phones cheaper and easier.

We do have a lot of real world data from years and years of desktop/laptop computers. Literally every single data set points to modular devices requiring more space to achieve the same level of performance as a more compact one.

Replaceable batteries, be they on phones or laptops, make devices larger every single time. You will not find an example contrary to this.

Replaceable video cards require architectures that can support the act of replacing them, which mean more components to support that modularity, and less opportunity for space optimization. Every single time.

Modularity always--always--means additional components to enable that modularity, and connectivity standards that place restrictions on innovative new space saving techniques. There are no examples of consumer devices that have beaten this shortcoming. It's how it works. It's the fundamental flaw of modularity.

It also damages a brand's ability to differentiate itself, so there will be minimal engagement from OEMs here. Samsung is doing just fine TYVM with their devices and has no interest in marketing chasses and modules.

This might 'succeed' with a market as niche as the build-your-own PC enthusiasts, but it will never, ever go mainstream. The convenience of all-in-ones is too great. This whole project Ara is just bonerfodder for geeks that think upgradeability will save them money.