Google has cancelled work on its modular smartphone. The project, which went by the name of Project Ara, is no more. So, what does this mean for the future of modular phones? Are there any other companies capable of taking up where Google seems to have left off?
Before we tackle those questions, let’s take a look at what exactly happened Project Ara…
Project Ara – a brief history
Google launched Project Ara in 2013. The original vision was for a completely customisable smartphone, where everything from the CPU to the battery could be replaced.
Users would be able to purchase a basic phone ‘shell’, and add the components they wanted, including the processor, camera, display, speakers and expandable storage. These parts could be replaced if they were damaged, wore out, or became obsolete.
However, Google later revealed that the Project Ara phone wouldn’t be as customisable as it was originally planned. Core internal features like the memory, processor and battery could no longer be swapped. So instead of users buying a virtually empty shell, it would now have quite a few built-in components. Google said this redesign was necessary to give more space to other parts with unusual functions.
At the 2016 Google I/O conference in May this year, Google said it was planning on making Project Ara smartphones a reality early in 2017. But of course, that’s not the case anymore. On September 2 2016, Google announced that Project Ara had been cancelled.
If not Google, who else?
Even though Project Ara has bitten the dust, there’s still a lot going on in the world of modular smartphones.
Earlier this year, LG launched its flagship LG G5 smartphone with modular components known as Friends – these included a camera grip, replaceable battery, and a sound converter that produced high-quality audio through the headphone jack. The bottom of the LG G5 could be removed, allowing your Friends to be added.
Motorola is another company with plans to go down the modular route. The Moto Z range was launched in the US in June, with a number of modular extensions called Moto Mods. These Moto Mods have been designed to snap on to the back of the Moto Z, and add functions like an additional speaker, extra battery life, camera zoom and - our favourite - a wall projector.
The future of modular phones
The idea of a modular phone still has a lot of fans, and it's easy to see why. We like the thought of being able to give our phones a bigger battery, more processing power, extra storage or an improved camera, all without having to buy a completely new smartphone.
We predict that as smartphone makers search for ways to stand out from the competition, modularity is going to play a big part. The innovation that we’ve seen from LG and Motorola in 2016 will continue into next year and beyond. Could we see a completely modular smartphone from one of the leading manufacturers in the next two or three years? We’re not betting against it…
What do you think? Is there life after Project Ara? Are we just seeing the beginning of what modular smartphones can do? Share your thoughts and predictions below.