Google’s Project Ara is an attempt to reinvent the cellphone as we know it. Instead of a slab of glass and metal that you have no ability to upgrade, save for buying a new device, the Project Ara is an attempt to launch a phone where all of the main components are interchangeable via modules that click in and out, attaching via electro-permanent magnets. Google’s Project Ara phone, will in theory let users swap in different components instead of having to replace the whole phone when it’s time to upgrade.
Currently for phone component makers e.g a camera company or a battery company, to get its part into a smartphone, it needs to convince both the factory and the actual smartphone company to include it. Project Ara instead allows component makers sell the part directly to the consumer, of course with the help of Ara’s design tools to build the module and Google’s help to market it. Consequently the “Ara ecoystem” would eliminate the need of giant manufacturers like Foxconn, Pegatron, or even Samsung and HTC to build Android phones.
“One of the goals is to democratize the hardware ecosystem, break it wide open, basically disintermediate the OEMs, so that component developers can now have privy with the consumer,” said Paul Eremenko head of Project Ara. “We want to empower the consumer to make those decisions rather than having the component developer go through an OEM to do that.“
Google’s project Ara is seen as an attempt to encourage hardware manufacturers to build modules that will slot into a metal “endoskeleton,” which serves as the basic core of a phone. The camera, screen, and any other features that you would traditionally associate with a smartphone would exist only as a modular tile, including the processor and the power jack.
When it comes to keeping the modules in place, Ara phones will use electropermanent magnets to hold them in place. An app on the phone will let you toggle the magnets on and off, and the 30 newtons of force in the on state should keep the modules from flying off when you drop the phone.
“It’s kind of a cross between a permanent magnet and an electromagnet, in that it has an on state and an off state,” Eremenko explains. “It uses an electrical pulse to switch between those two states, but it’s a passive component, meaning it consumes no power in both the off state and the on state.”
Despite the Ara Phone being highly customizable, it will only come in three main sizes. Google plans to roll out a “gray model,” a very basic device that costs as little as $50, as well as higher-end handsets that could go for as much as $500 and up. The former will be released first within the first quarter of 2015.