Google's Project ARA: Build Your Own Phone by 2015

During the first Project Ara developer conference on Tuesday, Ara leader Paul Eremenko said that Google's modular Gray Phone, aka Project Ara, will be made available in January 2015 and cost around $50 to build. The phone will be a boring gray because the company wants customers to fully customize the device.

On Tuesday, Eremenko said that the exoskeleton (chassis) holding all the pieces together should last around five to six years. The removable modules will stay attached to the chassis using electro-permanent magnets. All modules will use the UniPro standard to communicate with each other.

The idea behind this modular phone is revolutionary, and could change the face of the smartphone market. Instead of waiting two years for new hardware, customers would simply swap out the component they don't want for something better. How wireless carriers like Verizon and AT&T will handle this type of phone remains to be seen.

MORE: Google Releases First Project Ara Module Developer Kit

Eremenko admitted that he and the other two full-time Project Ara team members have a lot of work to do between now and January. They're working with academic experts at Carnegie Mellon and MIT, as well as 3D Systems, a 3D printing company that's currently building a "massive" 3D printer for fabricating the components.

Given that the modular phones will run on Android, the team also needs to build the drivers necessary to control the modules. That, according to Eremenko, will be the last "component" on the development list. "It's true that Android does not support dynamic hardware today," said Eremenko. "The good news is that we're Google."

So what will be in the default phone? A screen, battery, processor and WiFi module. All modules will be a standard size measured in 20-millimeter units. The version shown at the conference consisted of five 2x1 unit modules and two 2x2 unit modules. The processing module was built into a 2x2 module and the Wi-Fi component into a 2x1 module.

"A grey phone could be shrink-wrapped and something you could buy at your local convenience store," said Eremenko. "You fire up your grey phone, run the Ara configurator and start purchasing modules in the marketplace."

Eremenko stressed that Gray Phone is focused on the mainstream market that is still using feature phones, not the gadget-hungry crowd that buys a new smartphone every six months. Google is hoping to bring more Android smartphones to more people while also increasing the size and competitiveness of the hardware market.

"We want to make the smartphone hardware ecosystem more like that of the software ecosystem that underpins Android," said Eremenko.

  • swordrage
    Before it is successfull, the parts that are not swappable needs to be at a standard where no one complains, like a 1080p screen at 5 inches. The bandwidths for different modules needs to be at least 2 or 4 times the current best.

    The main board should not be like a motherboard, but more like a set of pcie connection so that a generation lasts a few years just like "project christine" by razer in the modular desktop space.

    Though for some reason it is being targeted at the mid budget market, I can see only super enthusiasts to ride on the wave.
  • getochkn

    That article states that they will come in different sizes so you can pick the screen size you want.

    In theory, it sounds like an awesome idea, if done properly. I'd love to be able to swap out a better camera, or better speakers, or whatever suits your needs for your phone. If they half-ass it though and only allow a few modules to be swapped out, then it will be lame.
  • the1kingbob
    This could be a game changer. What I haven't heard a lot about, is swapping for different screen sizes. I would consider selling my N7 and N4, to get a single mobile device and have the ability to swap screens when I am at home. Would also love ability to swap out cameras depending on needs.
  • kittle
    I like this idea. but a couple concerns:
    Battery life? (my phone lasts 5 days)
    Cost of the modules?

    I still use an old flip phone or "feature phone" as they call it. I use my phone to make phone calls and to txt. thats it. The screen is WAY to small for web browsing or reading. The current smartphones arent much better -- They are bigger, but still ... web browsing on a 4-5 inch screen? nothankyou -- gimme my 15" laptop or 27" desktop.

    Screen module, keyboard module, processor module. Done
  • canadianvice
    My one suggestion would be either have REALLY strong magnets or use a back case somehow. Can you imagine dropping that thng otherwise?

    Though, I'll be the first to admit I really hope this comes to fruition.
  • tvieson
    As neat as this sounds for phones. I think I'd rather see this in a tablet. Perhaps even a universal design that would allow interchanging of components with tablets and phones. As much as I like my Smart Phone, there are times I wish it was smaller with longer battery life.

    As great as all these sync and cloud features are. It would save a lot of time and bandwidth if I could just take the storage of my phone and connect to a tablet. Use my phones modem to connect to the internet instead of finding an available WiFI or having a separate cell plan just for my tablet. The potential of this could be exponential. Imagine if you didn't have to pair your phone with a cars hands free system. You just plug your module into the car and bang you have everything at your disposal.

    Things I hope they focus on is component improvements and replacements. It would certainly be nice to replace my battery or my screen if it goes bad. Swap out speakers and mic for better sounding or more reliable components.

    Switching Cell carriers easily would also be nice. I've had great phones over the years that were only offered by one carrier. Not having to unlock a phone or buy a completely new phone simply because I changed carriers would be awesome.
  • flaxx
    It's nice to see the Phone Bloks dream finally coming to life:
    I wish Apple would do the same because Automatic Reference Counting (ARC) and Grand Central Dispatch (GCD) in Objective-C is far superior to the inefficient and flaky Java. I wish Android would just switch to using Objective-C as that would make porting easier for developers too (never mind all the performance gains). But anyway, I digress.
  • netmind
    Nice idea about compatible blocks but, er, licensing suxx and neither really open, nor offers real freedom. So it's kinda fail.