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Build Your Own Smartphone with Google’s Project AraBuild Your Own Smartphone with Google’s Project Ara

Google's Project Ara may let consumers build their own smartphones as early as next year. The modular cellphone prototype is being designed to allow users to customize their devices by adding features at will to a basic endoskeleton model, which Google hopes to sell for just $50.

Michael Cusanelli

March 4, 2014

3 Min Read
Build Your Own Smartphone with Google’s Project Ara

Instead of combing the Internet for the best smartphone to fit your needs, how would you feel about the idea of building your own phone from scratch?

Desktop computer users have been doing it for years—swapping out components to create their own personal rigs built for high-speed performance, stunning graphics for gaming and additional storage. Even photographers have the option of outfitting their camera bodies with all sorts of lenses, flash arrays and other gadgets. But cellphone users have never had the opportunity to make their very own phone from scratch—until now.

Google’s (GOOG) Project Ara means to do exactly that: let users customize smartphones by choosing interchangeable modules to create the ultimate device to your specifications. The process would allow users to purchase a smartphone endoskeleton with bare-bones features such as Wi-Fi and a backup battery for just $50 and then purchase additional features via a series of interchangeable modules. That means users can customize their phones to include everything from advanced cameras to extra batteries, powerful speakers, fancy displays and an unknown number of weird and wacky features that may never have been possible in mainstream phones.

Time spoke with Google to learn more about the company’s mysterious modular phone project this week, the development of which is being handled by Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) group. ATAP is a holdover from Google’s former investment in Motorola, which was sold off to Lenovo earlier this year. The project was originally announced last October, but there have been few details on the project ever since.

Google said the modules consist of small, 4mm tiles that can slide in and out of a phone at will, allowing users to hot-swap features on the fly. One example offered by Time is swapping out a cellular service module for added battery life when on vacation in a foreign country. Currently, Google is developing a small, medium and jumbo variety of exoskeleton, which will allow potential buyers to choose a size based on how many modules they need for their phone. Modules will be held in place via latches on the front of the endoskeleton and electropermanent magnets on the back, so parts won’t fly off the phone if you drop it.

And even though the project is still in prototype form, the general public could be crafting its own devices as early as next year. According to Time, Google plans to reveal more details about its intriguing phone concept at a Project Ara developer conference in Silicon Valley in mid-April.

If Google can pull off the modular phone concept, the results could be staggering for the cellphone industry and consumers as a whole. Even though the idea of customizing your own smartphone could be daunting at first, one could imagine that it could become the Next Big Thing when it comes to phone purchases. And the success of the project could have staggering effects on the rest of the smartphone industry: How would competitors such as Apple (AAPL) compete with a fully customizable device when iPhone users can’t even switch out their own batteries or change a cracked screen without violating the phone’s warranty?

The relative success or failure of Project Ara could change the landscape of the cellphone industry as we know it. The big question now is, Are consumers willing to give the idea a chance?

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About the Author(s)

Michael  Cusanelli

Associate Editor, Penton Technology Group, Channel

Michael Cusanelli is the associate editor for Penton Technology’s channel properties, including The VAR Guy, MSPmentor and Talkin' Cloud. He has written articles and produced video for Newsday.com and is a graduate of Stony Brook University's School of Journalism in New York. In his spare time Michael likes to play video games, watch sci-fi movies and participate in all things nerdy. He can be reached at [email protected]


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