Smart phones are a technological revolution all of their own, driving the tech world forward with touch screen interfaces and new operating systems.
Owners of Google Ara phones in the not too distant future will have the ultimate phone flexibility, able to quickly replace modules on their phone, upgrading the functionality of their mobile companion with a snap. Like a Swiss army knife spare modules could be kept on hand ready for any situation, swapped in and out as needed.
Google’s Project Ara is the big G’s latest revolution, the fully modular phone with much smarts. This new project may just produce the third revolution in mobile phones: first we had the Mobile Phone, then the Smart Phone and now Modular Smart Phones approach. But is the world ready for the modular revolution?
Recently a number of custom printed modular Ara phones have been doing the rounds at the Mobile World Conference. Produced by Google’s high tech development team ATAP (Advanced Technology and Projects, formerly a Motorola division) the team have even completed a $50 super basic phone that includes only the essentials for a modular smart phone. Named the Gray Phone it includes only CPU, display and Wi-Fi, customers can of course add or upgrade modules at anytime.
Rumours suggest that Google is preparing three different sized Ara phones, the larger screen of the more expensive model able to fit more modules behind it. The heart of each model is the chassis, a 3D printed frame that holds a small battery and a mini network of connectors. While a battery is present in the chassis it is used only for stand-by power so a battery module is also required.
As far as upgrade potential is concerned Ara phones will be in a league of their own when compared to traditional smart phones. Need more CPU speed, then just change out the CPU module. Want a high end camera sensor, just add it.
Not only does this change the upgrade process but it also means your phone can change its personality by switching modules, like changing the lens on a DSLR.
Part of the success of the smartphone is their ability to act as an interface for other devices, the GoPro app for smart phones is a perfect example. It extends the usefulness of the GoPro by allowing you to work with a much better interface than the one on the camera. We live in a world full of devices that could use a touch screen interface to make life easy but many lack a Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connection. These devices could have a module produced that allowed your phone to easily control them.
For the modular phone to be a success Google will need to allow companies to easily produce their own modules. This will be the subject of Google’s first Project Ara conference, April 16-17, a conference that will see the MDK (Module Developers Kit) released. Three conferences are schedule for the next couple of months; all will be used to fine tune the design and prepare the module ecosystem.
Google also seems to be pushing the boundaries of 3D printing for Project Ara; is this is a double revolution? Working with 3D printing specialist 3D Systems Google hopes to soon be able to print the modules, electronic circuitry included. Being able to produce the modules in one pass would be nothing short of incredible, let alone revolutionary. Initially the innards of the modules will consist of traditionally assembled electronics with customizable 3D printed shells.
Project Ara seems to be progressing well, Google is putting its weight behind this idea. And what an idea, the ultimate gadget loving geek phone, but whether most people will take to the modular approach is another question altogether.
Project Ara is expected to have phones available in the not too distant future. Here at Highpants we think the first Ara phone will appear by the end of the year maybe even by Q4. Google Glass may be getting all of the publicity but Google Ara will be a revolution that stretches further and effects far more people.