The New 'Modular' Smartphone Could Revolutionize The Entire Industry!
The Ara smartphone, which will have components that can be replaced and upgraded through a hardware marketplace similar to an app store, will go on sale on the island in the second half of 2015.
Google is teaming up with cellular carriers OpenMobile and Claro, part of América Móvil, the largest wireless-service provider in Latin America.
Google’s Android mobile operating system powers the vast majority of smartphones. But as growth in smartphone sales slows, Google is looking for the next big consumer technology by developing wearable gadgets, smart-home devices, self-driving cars and health-monitoring systems.
Google will sell the gadgets and the modules in Puerto Rico from Ara phone trucks, which resemble food trucks. Google has estimated the price of the frame, or endoskeleton, at $50. But Mr. Eremenko said on Wednesday that Google will try to reduce the cost as volume grows. The total price of a phone will vary based on the modules a consumer chooses.
“That’s the point,” said Regina Dugan, head of Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects Group, which developed the modular phone. Consumers can start with a cheap basic phone and build it over time. The approach may get more Google phones into more people’s hands, another goal of Project Ara.
Google said more than 50 developers are working on Ara modules, including Toshiba Corp. , Marvell Technology Group Ltd. and Nvidia Corp. Toshiba showed off a five-megapixel camera module on Wednesday during a developer conference near Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. Modules will perform a wide variety of functions, including providing battery power, the display, security and health-and-activity monitoring.
Going from a research project to a public product is tricky, as Google’s efforts to sell an early version of its Glass Internet connected eyewear have shown.
“This move to the market is a full contact sport,” Dr. Dugan said.
Before ATAP, Dr. Dugan led the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which has spawned new technologies including Google’s self-driving car and helped create the Internet itself.
Ara is part of a broader effort by Google to make hardware development more like developing software, which generally moves more quickly and can be changed more frequently. Hardware development is challenging because it is harder to change the designs of physical gadgets and replace components from global supply chains.
Google tried the launch-and-iterate approach with Glass, its Internet-connected eyewear, selling thousands of units to the public. But Glass suffered from a short battery life and privacy complaints.
The Internet company is taking the plunge again with a large, public test for Ara because it expects to get useful feedback and data from users, Mr. Eremenko said.
“There are unanswered questions and the only way to answer these is to actually get the data from consumers,” he said.
With lots of choices of modules, consumers may be overwhelmed, so Google wants to see how people respond to this “paradox of choice,” Mr. Eremenko said.
Google also wants to test different pricing models to find the best way for outside developers to make money from their modules. There may also be a secondary market for selling and sharing Ara modules and the company wants to see how that develops and support it, according to Mr. Eremenko.
Users Could Customize Their Devices With Hardware Modules Built by Outside Developers.
Google Inc. is planning a "modular" smartphone that consumers can configure with different features, executives said on Tuesday.
The modules would fit into a metal "endoskeleton" designed for the phone, which Google calls Project Ara. Flat rectangular "modules" can be slotted into this frame, where they will be held in place by magnets, designers said.
"The existing way of making smartphones is mature. But there are new ways of making phones," said Kaigham Gabriel, deputy director of Google's Advanced Technology and Projects Group, which developed the concept for the phone. Mr. Gabriel spoke in an interview at the first Project Ara developer conference.
Google envisions hardware modules, such as a camera or blood-sugar monitor, that would be available in an "app store," like its own Google Play store for software applications.
Google is hoping to harness the creativity of thousands of developers to build a large ecosystem of hardware modules. Google plans to start with an entry-level phone with basic functions that would cost roughly $50 to make.
Google also is planning an online marketplace where consumers buy additional modules, depending on what they want their phone to do.
"We want it to be like an app store," Mr. Gabriel said. "You may want a blood-sugar monitor and a cigarette lighter on your phone. Why should you not have that?"
Rajeev Chand, head of research at Rutberg Co., an investment bank focused on the wireless and digital-media industries, said Project Ara could let smartphone users upgrade their gadgets more cheaply and more often, rather than replacing the entire device every 18 months, as many do now.
There's also the question of whether many consumers will want to spend time customizing their phones with complex new components, Mr. Chand said.
The phone's creators are working on an app to help users select modules.
They also are considering using eye tracking and heart-rate sensors to check if users are overwhelmed by the choices, said Paul Eremenko, the head of Project Ara. If stress levels rise, the configurator app will whittle down the choices to a more manageable selection, he explained.
"The smartphone ecosystem is in early stages of its development, like the car in the early 1900s when you could have any color you wanted as long as it was black," Mr. Eremenko explained. "Today, about 25% of the value of automobiles is in the customization. We want to do that with smartphones."
Executives and engineers from Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects group came up with the project, and are holding their first conference on Tuesday and Wednesday. The goal: to persuade developers to create new hardware for the effort.
The Ara smartphone is based on a metal frame designed by Google. Hardware “modules” built by outside developers will slot into this frame and will be held in place by magnets.
Google plans a basic Ara phone that costs about $50 to build. Consumers can then buy new modules, via an online marketplace or app store, from developers, depending on what they want their phones to do.
On Tuesday, some developers were already discussing hardware add-ons for the nascent platform.
Peter Sisk, a senior engineer from The Institute for Health Metrics, said he is working on an Ara module that could analyze a small drop of blood and collect results that usually require much larger samples.
“This is essentially a blood lab on a chip,” he added. The technology could be used to analyze blood samples in remote locations and send the information back to hospitals through wireless networks, Sisk explained.
Eric Blanchard, a design engineer from satellite communications provider Globalstar, said his company could make an Ara module that users slot into their phone when they are out of the range of wireless and wifi signals. The module would hook the phone up to Globalstar’s satellites and let users make calls and access the Internet, he explained.
Derek Linden, founder of X5 Systems, is developing antenna modules for Ara phones that can be customized online based on users’ requirements.
Kaigham Gabriel, deputy director of Google’s ATAP group, said Ara phones could help villages in developing countries connect to the Internet and wireless voice services cheaply. Each villager could have a basic Ara phone and the village could have one module that provides 4G wireless services.
When someone needs to make a call, they can insert the 4G module into their device. When they are done they can pass it to their neighbor, Gabriel explained.
Google's Modular Phone Project Get's Whacked
Alphabet Inc.’s Google is killing plans to make a modular phone, according to two people familiar with the project, the end of an ambitious internal program to reinvent smartphones.
The company told partners in the past week that it was ending its three-year-old Project Ara, which aimed to develop smartphones with modular, replaceable parts that snap onto its back, one of the people said. Ara’s end is part of a larger reorganization of Google’s hardware team under new hardware chief Rick Osterloh that intends to narrow its focus on a handful of important projects, the other person said.
The decision to end the project is an about-face for Google, which in May unveiled a new modular-phone prototype to much fanfare at its annual developers conference. At that event, the company said it planned to release the phones to developers by year’s end and start selling them commercially next year.
Modular phones are designed to have parts that can snap on and off, such as extra speakers, camera lenses or a glucometer for diabetes patients. Some other phone makers, including LG Electronics Inc. and Lenovo Group Ltd., have recently released such devices. The modular design is intended to enable customers to customize their phone’s hardware for their preferences— much like they can do with apps—but it also adds bulk and complexity to the device.
Google is hoping its work on Ara isn't a total waste, though. The company is seeking partners to buy or license the technology, one person said.
The decision caps a rocky journey for Ara, which began in 2013 under phone maker Motorola, then owned by Google. It later moved to a Google research lab called the Advanced Technology and Projects group.
The advanced-technology group typically has a two-year deadline for its projects but it extended Ara’s timeline because the team was struggling to get the phone from prototype to large-scale production. Those struggles partly caused the group to suspend plans a year ago to launch the modular phone in Puerto Rico.
In April, the advanced-technology group’s head, former Pentagon research chief Regina Dugan, left for a similar role at Facebook Inc. Ara lost some support after her departure, one person said.
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