Google Project Ara Thoughts and News

Ok, so I have to admit, this isn’t really super relevant for the prepaid market just yet. But I have been reading about the Google Project Ara recently, and I just had to share. Looking at the device and reading the reviews, it seems like Project Ara is going to either A) completely flop in the worst possible way or B) revolutionize the way that people look at and use smartphones. I’m hoping for the latter, but rather expecting the former because the idea is just so cool! Anyway, for those of you who are feeling a little lost right now, I’ll fill you in. Basically, Project Ara has been under development for about a year or so, and is based around the idea that you should be able to customize your phone’s hardware the same way you can any other part. This ‘modular phone’ concept focuses on removable and interchangeable hardware that can be swapped out as necessary. Need a better camera for night shots? Done. Want an actual controller for gaming on your phone? Piece of cake! Cracked your screen? Just swap out a new one. It’s a rather ingenious idea. Now you might be thinking that this idea sounds familiar. In 2013, a video was circulating the internet from a company referred to as “Phone Bloks.” You can watch the video here or on their site. This idea was developed by Dave Hakkens, but is not related to Project Ara. The concepts are very similar, however the Phone Bloks website states clearly that they aren’t working with Ara but do support the initiative. Anyway, back to Project Ara. The first announcement for Ara was actually made in April of this year so you might be wondering why I am prattling on about it now. Well, as it turns out, this week Google has finally announced a tentative release date of July 2015 for this remarkable device, along with a few more specs, such as the Android L OS and the price.

Project Ara Challenges

But (there’s always a ‘but’ isn’t there?) the idea is still far from perfect. The reason that phones get such good battery life is from efficiency. Everything is packaged together in such a way that it doesn’t tax the battery overmuch to have multiple things running. In short, it all works together as a single unit. With Project Ara, there are some sacrifices that will have to be made resulting in a slightly slower, heavier, thicker phone with a shorter battery life. At least, at first. Of course, for such a revolutionary idea, it might be worth it. And hey, if they come up with a way to fix it, you can always swap it out, right? The biggest hurdle I can see (aside from the obvious technical challenges which are clearly being conquered) is that Google is going to have to get a lot of companies behind them to make the modules that consumers are willing to pay extra. The Project Ara website actually has a module development kits (MDKs) and applications available right now, so clearly they’ve already thought about that. But, before they can get the major companies too involved, they’ll have to prove that someone is willing to pay money for the phone. I expect that the exuberant response to Phone Bloks (who never even promised to actually make anything. That was just a response to the idea) will make that hurdle a little smaller. To help soften the initial hesitation of cautious consumers, reports claim the ‘gray phone’ base model is going to start at $50. Additional upgrade modules will, of course, cost more and there are even talks about making the module shells completely customizable so you can not only choose what your phone does, hardware-wise, but also how it looks. The latter part is probably what will really sell it, as we all know that looks are just as important to most consumers (maybe even more important) as the actual hardware underneath.

Things to Consider

Of course, before we all start lining up for this nifty device, there are a couple of things to consider. Like, how easy would those little modules be to lose? I mean, they look pretty small, so I personally wouldn’t want to pump out too much money for fear of my cat somehow getting a hold of it and hiding it under the couch for a month (not that she’s ever done that with my flash drives or SD cards before). And if you can mix and match hardware, will there be long lists of compatible module listings somewhere? I mean, if you have a low-end processor and a high-end camera module, how well are they going to play together? I could see this becoming quite complicated pretty quickly and for Ara to be accepted by more than the tech nerds, it is going to have to be simple. It will be interesting to see where it goes, and I’ll keep you updated if I hear anything–more because I think it’s a cool idea than anything else. But what do you think? Is a modular phone cool enough to be worth the hassle? Or just another novelty that will fade in a couple of months? Let me know in the comments!]]>

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