Change your phone parts as easily as you change clothes? The video above, a zippy look at Google’s much anticipated – and much delayed – modular phone shows how the finished product will look and function.
The interchangable modules are fitted on the back of the phone, the idea being the developers can add hardware modules of their choice to a standard "endo-frame."
A newly developed website for the phone says, “The Ara frame contains all the functionality of a smartphone plus six flexible slots for easy swapping.”
A developer edition of the phone was showcased last Friday at Google’s I/O developer conference by Engineering lead Rafa Camargo.
Camargo demo-ed the system by plugging a camera module in and taking a photo of the audience, immediately, without any rebooting or hunting for drivers in the device. “Step one, plug in a module,” Camargo told the crowd. “Step two, use it.”
The modules can be removed with a simple voice command, Camargo removed the camera module by simply saying, “okay Google, eject the camera.” The camera popped out and the crowd erupted in loud cheers.
Currently the phone has basic modules – high resolution camera, better speakers, expandable storage. The developer models will come also with an E-Ink display (like the one you'd find on an Amazon Kindle e-reader) CNet reported.
There may also be an additional battery, sensors to measure air quality and medical aids like glucometers for Diabetics, this last one was showcased at the conference (video below).
Camargo said, “It has six modular slots, they are built for flexibility, you can put any module anywhere, all slots are generic and support any functionality. Each slot supports up to 11.6 gigabits per second while consuming one third of the USB 3 power.” He added, “It’s ready for the most advanced high performance applications.”
Elaborating on the design, Blaise Bertrand, Google’s Head of Creative said, “we also wanted to make Ara personal, so we’ve developed modules with wood, modules with concrete, and modules that we added colour to... Ara is the combination of beauty and function.”
The developer models of the phone will be available later in 2016, and can be signed up for on the website here. Bertrand said of these models, “It will contain a phone, a few modules, well essentially anything you need to start building. So we’d like to ask you to think about, what are the modules that you want to create.”
He also confirmed that the consumer version of the Ara will be released next year. “It will be thin, it will be light, it will be beautiful, and we’ll launch it next year.”
Watch the full video from the conference. The Ara showcase begins at about the 35th minute.
The phone has been part of the company’s Advanced Technologies and Products (ATAP) division since 2013 now. The original idea was to allow users to build their own phones (like some people build their own PCs) with Google providing the “endoskeleton” – a structural frame. Such a model would have lasted way longer than present smartphones, where you could just replace the phone’s processor with an updated version; ditto for other components. That processor strategy, however, hasn’t worked out.
But this present prototype is also built to last. Camargo said, “current modules will work with future frames, future modules will work with current frames.”
A subreddit is dedicated to the phone and has links to more details on it.