project ara
Update: The rumors detailed in this article have been confirmed entirely. Ara is officially dead, but Google may license parts of the project’s technology to other manufacturers.

Project Ara, Google’s ambitious modular phone, has reportedly been shelved.

Launched by Motorola in 2013, Project Ara was envisioned as a solution to problems like rampant electronic waste, a lack of diversity in mobile computing, and slow innovation. Google took over Ara when it acquired Motorola and, for a while, the modular phone project seemed very promising.

But Project Ara has been beset by delays and change of plans, and now Google has reportedly decided to scrap it completely.

Reuters reports that Google’s new head of hardware – and former Motorola CEO – Rich Osterloh has been streamlining the company’s scattered hardware projects. One of the first victims of this culling is Project Ara, claim two people familiar with the matter.

Google won’t launch Ara itself, but the sources said there’s still a chance that Google will license the project to a partner. Even so, it’s hard to believe that any partner would succeed where Google has failed.

A victim of streamlining

The news of the abrupt cancellation comes as a shock. At Google I/O in May, Google said it would release developer units this fall and launch the first Ara devices commercially in 2017. It appears that Ara was just months away from hitting the market, after four years in development.

Rich Osterloh rejoined Google in April 2016 and took over the oversight of products like the Nexus line, Chromecast, Chromebooks, Android One, and the Pixel line, as well as ATAP, the skunkworks unit that developed Project Ara. One of Osterloh’s main challenges is to bring together all of these product lines, at a time when they are going through major transformations. These changes include the retiring of the Nexus brand, which will be allegedly replaced by Pixel come this October.

It’s a shame that Google couldn’t make Project Ara work, but the truth is the odds were stacked against it from the beginning. The challenge of creating a viable modular smartphone is daunting, but the real problem is to bring it to market and convince manufacturers and customers to invest in it. LG and Lenovo are struggling with the same challenges, at a much smaller scale.

Thoughts on the demise of Project Ara?