- By Stephanie Mlot
- PCMag, April 16, 2014
The first Project Ara device will be a gray phone, designed to be intentionally boring so users will customize it.
Google’s Project Ara initiative aims to change the future of smartphones, and it just might, when the first modular device launches in January for $50.
During this week’s Project Ara Developers Conference, leader Paul Eremenko announced the “Gray Phone”—an intentionally boring handset expected to be personalized.
“It’s called the Gray Phone because it’s meant to be drab grey to get people to customize it,” Eremenko told the crowd, according to CNET.
Consumers can choose their operating system, phone case, and applications, so why not let them choose the handset’s hardware design? That’s the question Google tackles with Project Ara, an open hardware platform that relies heavily on miniaturized components and 3D printing.
The Ara group has already partnered with 3D Systems and Phonebloks, and plans to collaborate with more partners, including academic experts at MIT and Carnegie Mellon, CNET said.
Project Ara is housed within Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) group, and overseen by Regina Dugan, former director of the U.S. Defense Department’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
The team was unveiled in October and tasked with doing for hardware what the Android platform has done for software: create a vibrant third-party developer ecosystem. Initially part of Motorola Mobility, Google retained ATAP when the companies split up in January.
Early this month, Google’s team showed off a prototype of the phone’s structural frame, highlighting electro-permanent magnets which keep in place components like an application processor, keyboard, extra battery, or pulse oximeter.
But there’s still one flaw in the design: the Android operating system does not yet support Ara’s dynamic hardware.
“The good news is that we’re Google,” Eremenko joked during Tuesday’s event, adding that necessary drivers will be ready in December, serving as one of the team’s last tasks before public release.
And unlike most smartphones, Ara’s handset is built to last five or six years—with continuous component updates, of course.
Last week, Google unveiled version 0.10 of its Module Developers Kit for Project Ara, offering mobile developers the bits and pieces needed to create a fully modular smartphone.
Tuesday and Wednesday’s event marked the first of three planned developer conferences; the next are set for July and September, though specific dates were not revealed.