The first modular smartphone: the Google Ara

The first modular smartphone: the Google Ara - Lovefone, London

As wonderful and endlessly useful as smartphones are, they haven’t seemed to evolve much in the past few years. Sure, new apps pop up every day, and minor tweaks and features get added to the mix with nearly every new smartphone model, but no huge step into the future of smartphone technology has happened in quite some time. Until now, it seems. Google is planning to launch the Google Ara in 2017, and it’s like nothing you’ve seen before in a smartphone.

The Ara is a truly revolutionary idea in what we know smartphones to be. It is the epitome of technology meets engineering. It is a modular phone that, at its most basic components, is just a phone. What makes it different is that it can be modded to your specific preferences. The Ara has ports in which you can insert any number of interchangeable parts to customize your smartphone in more than just its appearance. You can add a better camera, a better speaker, an extra speaker, and just about anything else that interested developers may come up with. And there are a ton of interested developers. Panasonic, Wistron, E-Ink, Toshiba, Harman, Samsung, Sony Pictures, and even some health companies are thinking about designing modules for the Ara.

Project Ara is the brainchild of Google, and will be the first smartphone Google will make themselves. The idea was to make a phone with more staying power than smartphones today. Instead of having to buy a new phone every time you want access to the newest technology, like that better camera or better battery that the newest Apple smartphone may have, you can keep your phone, and just add the newest, nicest modules out there.

Originally, the goal of the Ara was to have a totally modular phone. That would mean that the smartphone’s CPU, antenna, and everything else that makes your phone tick, would be customizable. This was a huge tease for many technology lovers, and for that reason, even got a somewhat negative review from the creator of a similar concept, Phonebloks. But as Project Ara progressed, the team realized that this was a little too much to go for. According to Ara, many users don’t want to waste time thinking about the processor or RAM in their phone. They would rather take the developer’s word for it, and worry about the simpler things, like their camera quality and what fun things they can do on their shiny new smartphone.

While this may seem like a drawback for some tech nuts, it drastically simplifies things for the user and the developers. By including the basic components, there is more room for you to insert your favorite modules. The Ara aims to include six slots, allowing you to customize your smartphone quite a bit.

Since Ara is still working with other developers to make a wide array of modules, let’s let our imaginations take over for a minute. With the Ara, you may be able to buy a module that unlocks and starts your car. You know those projector touchscreens that have even been integrated into some smartphones? You could just buy a module for that, instead of having to fork out hundreds of dollars for a new phone. If you’re one of those people who is constantly taking pictures and videos of everything with their smartphone, you can invest in a super nice camera for your smartphone, instead of having to find out which phone has the best camera. And in the future, you may be able to add a module that will give your phone more storage, something that countless smartphone users (myself included) would absolutely die for. The possibilities are seemingly endless with the idea of a modular phone. Apple’s trademark phrase, “There’s an app for that,” may be soon replaced by “There’s a module for that.”

Not only will functionality skyrocket with a modular phone, but so will its style. Plenty of fashion and beauty brands want to be a part of the Ara (literally). That means that your smartphone could have a custom camera of your choosing, and also a makeup mirror, or a module that is a tiny compartment, or even just a nice-looking module that does absolutely nothing but look awesome. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited to have a cool-looking, useless piece of wood or marble attached to my phone. No more worrying about finding a smartphone with front facing speakers, wireless charging, or the best battery life. With the Ara, just add what you want to the phone you already have.

These modules are designed to be taken on or off very easily, and can be interchanged on the go. That means you can have countless modules at your house, and you can pick and choose which ones you want to take with you depending on where you’re going, or what you’re doing. I’m giddy with excitement just thinking about my future Ara.

This next part is important. The Ara isn’t just an idea anymore. It works. Prototypes are already being used by Google’s Advanced Technology and Products division (ATAP). It is now just a matter of time before a consumer version is shipped out for you and I to purchase (and you can bet your butt I’m buying one).

By Dia Ascenzi

June 02, 2016