Project Ara is coming in January 2015, at least in limited form

by: Andrew GrushApril 15, 2014
1.4K

Project ARA sizes

As we speak, the Project Ara developer conference is going on at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California.

While most of the information being discussed by Google has already been revealed by way of the modular developer’s kit, the first day of the developer conference has brought us at least a few new details about the future of Ara. Specifically, we now know a bit more about when we’ll see Ara, what form it will take and how long an Ara device will ‘last’. There’s also a few details on Google’s plans for supporting Android on the device.

The road ahead: From Project Ara to a commercial release

Ara’s project leader Paul Eremenko revealed today that he plans to be done with Project Ara on April 1st of 2015. Theoretically that means after April 1st the handset will be ready for prime-time. Between now and then? The Project Ara team has their work cut out for them.

Eremenko detailed out their tentative plans for Ara’s development as follows:

  • A second developer’s conference will happen in July, and a third in September. These conferences are meant to help point developers in the right direction and get them ready for the Ara revolution.
  • The modules in Ara will communicate with one another thanks to the UniPro standard, a flexible power bus that will be ready by May. System-level functions are expected to be ready in September.
  • Android doesn’t currently support dynamic hardware, but they are already working on enabling support for Ara. The drivers needed to pull everything together are due in December, one of the last tasks the Ara team will do before they unleash Ara to the public.
  • In early January, Project Ara will be commercially released in limited ‘beta’ form. The first model is currently known in-house as the Gray Phone.

ara-goals

Project Ara: The Gray Phone

We’ve already heard a bit about what the Gray Phone will entail in the past. Basically, we are talking about a basic handset that will have a projected cost of around $50. This model will include Wi-Fi, a screen and other very basic components to help folks get started.

The Gray Phone is it will be a drab gray color that is designed to entice folks to further customize it

The idea for the Gray Phone is it will be a drab gray color that is designed to entice folks to further customize it and make it their own. The endoskeleton for the Gray Phone will be made using 3D printing technology, with the help of Google partners such as 3D Systems.

So what does the endoskeleton do? As we have mentioned before, this is the frame that holds the modules together and allows you to upgrade your phone slowly, instead of going out and buying a new one every 1-3 years. Of course, these endoskeletons won’t last forever. In a similar way to how motherboard standards work in the realm of PCs, the endoskeleton will have a limited support cycle of about “five to six years”.

Ultimately this means that Ara devices will still need to be traded in or sold when they reach a certain age, but the lifecycle is still much longer than your typical Android device.

Google Project Ara Large

From pipe-dream to near reality

A year ago, if you had asked me about the plausibility of modular computing in the world of mobile devices, I’d probably say it’s a cool idea but not a realistic one. Heck, if you had asked me a few months ago, my response would have been similar. And yet here we are.

Project Ara is still far from complete and could certainly run into several roadblocks between now and next year, but it’s clear that Google ATAP is on the right track. Of course, even after April 2015 we imagine that Ara will still have relatively limited availability both in terms of endoskeletons and the modules that make up the device.

What do you think of Project Ara, excited or do you still think the idea is too impractical?

[poll id=”528″]

  • Luka Mlinar

    Read Ara think Arya, read Gray Phone thing Grayjoy. Damn you GOT!
    Anyhoo.. For this thing to come on the market and sell like hot cakes, a lot of peaces need to fall in place. No pun intended. Even with the best possible scenario this will only add variety to the market. The notion that there will be less classical devices sold because of this phone is a pipe dream.
    Also don’t expect we will see top of the line Snapdragon SOC that you can buy at first. Still I’m glad they are working hard on this project. Looking forward to seeing how it develops.

    • Steven Hanson

      Maybe not Snapdragon but Meditek might be a good stand in at the begging? I think Project Ara will be fueled by many Chinese and Taiwanese companies selling those parts they make as modules to get a bigger cut than what they get from make them for OEM’s.

  • AmberLPalen

    Of course, these endoskeletons won’t last forever. In a similar way to how motherboard standards work in the realm of PCs, the endoskeleton will have a limited support cycle of about “five to six years”. http://u.to/FbH-Bg

    • najiy91

      thats one of the pros.

  • John

    Pros:
    – Customizable hardware
    – Modular components for easier repair and upgrades
    – Cost effective in buying smaller parts rather than a whole new device
    – Longer life cycle of the device due to upgradable modules.
    |
    Cons:
    – Not cost effective unless it’s subsidized like phones in the US (cost effectiveness geared toward territories that do not subsidize phones)
    – Manufacturers have to taper physical architecture to the structure of the module (inherent sacrifice)
    – Parts aren’t optimized for the other modules (will see improvement)
    – Design (imo) , also needs more form factors
    – Hardware to software connection (will see improvement)
    – Legal agreements between manufacturers
    |
    Statement: Impractical for developed countries where carriers subsidize phones unless the makers somehow find a way to make the device more affordable than subsidized phones. Meant for carriers that do not subsidize their phones. After the cons are appropriately accounted for, then I see Project Ara taking foot. I can already imagine a web store that allows you to filter components and purchase modules in different colors, specs, and sizes. Doubtful, but excited for 2015, and 2020….. 2025 :O

    • HD

      No one forces you to build a $500 device right away!! if your money is limited, upgrade it step by step. To me this is the fun part.

      • John

        By doing that, you are spending more per component of the device.
        I listed the pro of buying smaller parts rather than a new device & customization (which is what you said) and the con which is not being cost effective.
        I never wrote that people have to buy the highest quality modules right away, nor did I imply that.

        • If you can sell phones, you can sell components (2014 Snapdragon S4 two-slot processor – for sale $50).

        • Alenym

          When I see that the S5, retailed at more than 700$, costs less than 300$ to build, I have a hard time understanding how it could be less cost effective to build component by component. Unless every part builder decides to have such an indecent margin of profit. Which would be surprising, especially if there are thousands of manufacturers in competition.

          Moreover, subsidized phones often end up costing MORE to their owner than buying it outright, because of the ridiculously high price of the contract. If you bring your own unlocked phone, it’s easy to find a 40$/month plan. And you’re not even tied by a contract. If you wanna have a “free” phone on a 2 years contracts, your contract will most probably costs you at least 60$ for exactly the same calls/sms/data quantity!
          Some carriers (Rogers, Virgin…) even start to have a promotion like “bring your unlocked phone and pay less”. For Rogers, it’s 20$ less on a 60$/month plan. So you could say having a subsidized phone with Rogers on a 2 years contract actually costs you 20$/month * 24 months = 480$. Plus the 250$ Rogers asks you for the S5. 730$. Oh look! Not price effective at all! Better buy it on Amazon, unlocked, and sell it one year later. :P

          I took an example from Canada. I heard the prices are a bit better in the USA, but I’m confident the concept stays the same.
          So yeah, to me Project Ara is a marvelous idea that gives customers absolute freedom and puts much pressure on the carriers hegemony. ^^

          • John

            I’m speaking from the US perspective, should have noted. Component by component is more expensive to the average consumer but not to major OEMs. Major OEMs have contracts to purchase components in bulk at a discounted price, that’s why they can build a device much more cheaper than a normal consumer. Unless Google or manufacturers decide to subsidize component parts, the price of component by component will be more expensive than buying a device as a whole.
            I disclaim that I may be incorrect in the economic portion of my post. I majored in comp sci and psychology, medicine.

          • Alenym

            Oh yeah, it’s true the fact they buy in bulk should be taken into account.
            But I still think the higher competition between parts components makers will make them lower their margin of profit, resulting in lower prices. But maybe not as first since it’ll quite limited if I got what the article seems to say.
            Lowering the margin of profit is not subsidizing since they’ll still make profit (and potentially more revenues since lower price = usually higher sales) and is usually common in markets with high offer. If I remember my faraway economic sciences class. :P

            (Saying what I majored into would probably ruin my credible geek ethos, so I won’t say it. Oh, but my use of “ethos” probably gives you a hint. :P)

    • droidtomtom

      I know this is somewhat outside the scope of the comments here but…

      Add another PRO: These modules could be adapted to other uses. For example: upgradable RasberryPI(s) or modules that easily connect to robotic systems. Bluetooth and Cellular modules that give connectivity to other non-phone projects.

      And it would be great if automotive infotainment systems were now upgradeable with HiRes Ara displays and current generation SOC. Especially if this was to come to tablets.

    • Alexander

      You’re exactly right, sir. The pros are ALL great, but we have to understand that 1 pro and 1 con do not balance. Some of these things weigh much more than others. Things like “Legal Agreements between manufacturers”.

      To have a device like this, EVERY component needs to speak the exact same software language, fluently. Do Samsung, Google, HTC, Android, Nokia, Apple, and LG all write their coding in the same language/format? I don’t think so…so, that means that they have to begin SHARING code…which, for example, is something that Apple doesn’t won’t do with Google and Samsung (its biggest competitors).
      This means that certain companies, who can potentially make components that are of higher quality or that produce better results, are out of the project. This leads to a limiting of third party components (like previously mentioned), and that leads me to believe that some people are going to find this “customizable” phone to really lack in options.

      It’s really great to see that a company has taken this project up and appears to be doing good things with it…I’m just not really sold about it. I don’t think its going to afford as many opportunities for customization as it claims.

  • Dehaha1

    All I know, is that I could have all the things that matter to me once manufacturers start making stuff for it.

    -4.7″ 1080p AMOLED Display (Take the Moto X’s Display and make it 1080p basically}
    -3-4GB of RAM
    -64GB of Storage at least, 128GB would be awesome though.
    -Front-Facing Stereo Speakers
    -Battery-Life rivaling Note 3 or G2
    -Not too much bigger than Moto X, though up to a little smaller than Nexus 5 is acceptable

    • Sean Thomas

      the display and device size will be the same for as long as you have your base skeleton thing though. …and those aren’t something 3rd parties are allowed to produce as of the current plan. So don’t expect this project to give you the exact device and screen size you want.

      • Dehaha1

        I know… I just, I just want that prefect phone, and Ara is probably the only way I’ll ever get close to it…

        I just need to let the dream come out and walk around every once in a while.

  • Chris

    Do you really have to put all that garbage at the top of every article? “Follow on G+! Newsletter! Giveaway!”

    Come on…

  • Sinan Cagrı Kurt

    50$ This gonna be awesome for the people who pay taxes of phone more than phone itself.But i dont think they can tax for components that much.

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  • cam

    “A year ago, if you had asked me about the plausibility of modular computing in the world of mobile devices, I’d probably say it’s a cool idea but not a realistic one. Heck, if you had asked me a few months ago, my response would have been similar.” ….. hold on so you’re writing for a blog about android and you had no idea this was coming? They’ve been talking about it for at least the past year and had the whole app thing to go with it. Maybe I interpreted that wrong.

  • RollingStar

    I remember this idea was circulating the Internet a few months ago. It was a huge deal. I don’t think any of us could have imagined that it would be a realized thing on the market! Google, you have the hopes and dreams of millions of people riding on this, you better not let me down!

    (Google’s totally going to let me down, aren’t they?)

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