In May, Google promised to launch a developer edition of its Project Ara modular smartphone by the end of the year and take a consumer version to the market in 2017. Those ambitions, however, have apparently been shelved.
Google had touted its modular computing platform as a game-changer, not only for smartphones but for other devices as well. The project envisioned creating an ecosystem of snap-in/snap-out components that would enable users to customize their devices on the fly with cameras, speakers, extra storage and even health modules such as glucometers to help diabetics test their blood sugar levels.
Citing two unnamed sources "with knowledge of the matter," Reuters today reported that Google was making an "about-face" with Project Ara. However, Reuters noted that the company might still work with partners to eventually bring the technology to the consumer market.
Aimed at Unifying Hardware Efforts
"Axing Project Ara is one of the first steps in a campaign to unify Google's various hardware efforts, which range from Chromebook laptops to Nexus phones," the Reuters report noted. Rick Osterloh, formerly president of Motorola, which Google sold to Lenovo in 2014," rejoined Google earlier this year to oversee the effort," according to Reuters.
Speaking with the tech publication 9to5Google, Project Ara founder Dan Makoski said he was saddened at the lack of courage to take it across the finish line.
"It's disappointing to the teams who have worked so hard to make it real, disheartening to the developers hoping to bring their innovations to life, and frustrating to the fans across the world who were so eager to have Ara in their hands," Makoski said.
The decision will no doubt also disappoint many developers who have been working on apps to support a variety of Project Ara modules. Google had designed the project as an open system that would be easy for developers to design for and easy for consumers to use.
During Google's I/O developers conference in May, Rafa Camargo, the technical and engineering lead of the company's Advanced Technology and Projects group, showed off a demonstration version of an Ara phone in which a camera module could quickly be popped in and out to change functionality on a device.
The key was a phone base plate that was the "hardware equivalent of a software API" (application program interface), he said. The design of the base plate featured six interchangeable slots for modules that could make Ara phones more flexible and future-proof, as well as easy to use, he noted.
Other Module Efforts in Play
A Google spokesperson told us by email this morning that the company had no official comments to offer about Project Ara. However, the spokesperson did confirm that the Reuters report was "true and accurate."
The Reuters article also noted that while modular smartphones aim to extend the life and functionality of mobile devices, the design of the phones and the module components make them "bulky and costly to produce."
Google is far from the only company that has been working to develop such modular devices. In June, for instance, Motorola announced plans to launch two new smartphones that can be magnetically paired with a variety of "mods" to add on features like speakers, image projectors and battery boosters.
Those phones -- the Moto Z Droid and the Moto Z Force Droid -- hit the U.S. market in July. The company is working to promote new technologies and applications for such devices through its Moto Mods Development Program, which is currently available in the U.S.