Google’s Project Ara: Will it Work?

Project Ara
Model of a modular phone from Project Ara.

Google has been known for its many unique and bold ventures, such as a self-driving car, Project Tango, Google Glass, etc. The team behind all of these futuristic projects is Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) group. One of these audacious projects includes Project Ara.

Now you may have heard of this on the media or even heard about one of Ara’s collaborators, Phonebloks, that went viral a while back. Essentially, Project Ara is a move to create a modular cell phone, a phone that has customizable and removable hardware components (like the camera, battery, speaker, screen,etc.). These components are held together by advanced electro-permanent magnets.

The customizable and swappable components of Ara phones will be held together by electro-permanent magnets.

The idea behind Project Ara and the modular phone is based on two goals. One is to cut down on electronic waste from mobile gadgets. When our smart phones get damaged, more times than not, we replace the whole phone, even if only one component was damaged. I’m pretty sure you have or know someone who has dropped their phone and cracked the screen. Well, the modular phone would provide a cost-effective method to just replace the damaged hardware component, which is better for the environment and your wallet.

The second goal of Project Ara is to bring smart phone technology to billions of people at affordable rates. According to Ara’s website, 5 billion people don’t have smart phones. In our technologically advanced society, we tend to forget about those in less fortunate regions. Being that the modular phone is more economically viable for the consumer (or at least it is planned to be), Ara could help change the world for many people.

Here is a video from The Verge highlighting aspects of Project Ara.

On the other hand, there are down sides to this idea. Since each hardware component is separately installed, the device itself could be bulkier and heavier than existing phones, whose manufacturers tightly pack all of hardware. Also, these separate components use more power than the seamless integration in current phones. Costs for this projects are hard to say because of the high-risk in a modular phone concept. Estimates range from $50 to $500. Simply, the world may not be ready to accept the modular phone or mere may not want it.

In addition, these phones won’t be able to compete in the same markets as the top-of-the-line cell phones, such as the iPhone, Galaxy S5, etc. Simply, the modular phones won’t be able to perform as well.  Project Ara is more situated in the market of people who do not have smart phones.

At the end of the day, what you think about Ara depends on what you find more valuable. Are customization, simply repairs, and longevity  important to you, or are innovation and top-of-the-line features more appealing? Whatever people decide, one thing is clear. Project Ara will either change the way we think about our smart phones and be a success, or be an utter failure and a lost cause. Google’s ATAP estimates that Ara will be in the market for consumers sometime in January of 2015. Until then, we can only wait to see what the world’s first modular phone will become.

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