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

During Day 1 of the Project Ara Developer Conference we learned a few new details about Ara, including Google's plans for commercial release and the timeframe involved.
April 15, 2014

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.

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?

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