Project Ara modular smartphone to get off the blocks in early 2015


April 16, 2014

Google is planning to release its Project Ara modular smartphone in January 2015 (Image: Google)

Google is planning to release its Project Ara modular smartphone in January 2015 (Image: Google)

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At the first Project Ara developer conference this week, project leader Paul Eremenko revealed that Google's modular smartphone is set for a January 2015 release. To come in drab gray so as to encourage personal customization, the device will start at a price of around US$50.

Project Ara comes out of Google's Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) division, which is headed by former DARPA director Regina Dugan. ATAP is the only division Google held onto after ending its brief foray into hardware production by selling the phone-manufacturing business it acquired with the purchase of Motorola Mobility in 2011 to Lenovo in January of this year.

Growing out of the Phonebloks concept developed by Dutch designer Dave Hakkens, the Project Ara platform is designed to provide an open structural platform to which various modules, such as display, battery, keypad, etc, can be added. This approach would allow users to customize the device to suit their specific needs and upgrade or replace damaged components without trashing the entire device.

At this weeks first Ara developers conference, Eremenko revealed that the team is aiming for a January 2015 release date for the smartphone, which will pose a number of hurdles that will need to be jumped if that date is to be met – and not just on the hardware side.

The Android OS doesn't currently support modular components so drivers will need to be developed to get everything to play nicely together. Eremenko told the conference attendees that such drivers are scheduled to arrive in December, which is only a month before the hardware is scheduled to roll out to the public.

Eremenko said the metallic Ara chassis is designed to last for five to six years, and will hold the components in place using electro-permanent magnets. Communication between the various components will be handled by the Unified Protocol (UniPro) standard that is used for interconnecting integrated circuits in mobile devices.

According to Phandroid, the roughly $50 price will include the Ara chassis, a display, a battery module, low-end application processor, Android OS, and Wi-Fi module. There are also three different sizes planned, including mini, regular and phablet.


About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag. All articles by Darren Quick

I don't see what the appeal is, surely by the time you add 'connectors' the phone will be larger than an integrated unit. Plus way more expensive


Nice project on the hardware side.

I hear through the grapevine that some people will soon use kickstarter to begin a process to take over a cell phone provider and make it into a non-profit or co-op or something. Really looking forward to that. Time to get rid of the profiteering from something that really should be a public good, at least on a basic level for voice and text.


This actually looks really interesting. I hadn't seen the phoneboks concept before but I think if I had an Ara I would probably pick black pieces that list the technical specs of the blocks (more like phoneblok) over the pastel colors in the stuff they have shown so far.

In the Phandroid link you gave there was another project talked about just before Ara that looked cool too. It was a device from that plugs into the OBD-II port in a car and communicates wirelessly to a phone. The reviews looked mixed for $100 but I dug around a bit and found the combo of BAFX ($24) and Torque software for Android (free or $5).

Way off topic sure but I guess I never thought of connecting my phone wirelessly to the OBD2 port before that.

Probably $25 well spent. If Ara launches at $50 I'm sure I will be down for one just for one even if I only plan to use it for WiFi. At that price it would make a half decent robotics platform.


Looks very cool!

Given that tinkerers have found the Raspberry Pi to be very attractive, I'm sure that this modular smartphone will be very popular as well. IMO there is lots of potential in the low-cost smartphone space.

I can see this modular smartphone being connected to all kinds of gizmos. I wouldn't mind betting that someone will find a way to connect it up to Lego Mindstorms and all kinds of other things. Anything that needs a cheap touchscreen, for instance.


@BeWalt one solution is to use VoIP for most stuff. Republic Wireless is one of the companies doing that, for $5/month you can use VoIP over WiFi only or you can upgrade to a "hybrid" plan that lets you switch to the normal (sprint) cell network when out of range of WiFi that are also pretty inexpensive.

There are a couple other companies going that route and I think Comcast mentioned plans to do something similar in part because they have a large WiFi network already. There are some technical issues like dropping calls as they switch between IP the cell network but with plans at $5 and $25/month it's probably still enough to disrupt the market.

Tucows owned Ting is another small sort of unknown mobile company that is cheap and piggybacks the Sprint network but they don't use a VoIP solution. You don't pick a plan, the tier you are charged for is based on usage for the month: (explained here )

I think a lot of big players are probably nervously watching companies like Republic Wireless closely. If they can work out some of the kinks in their hybrid VoIP/MVNO approach AT&T and Verizon are going to have to make some major adjustments to their earnings forecasts.

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