Google Suspends Its Project Ara Modular Smartphone Efforts

Google began Project Ara in 2013 to create phones that users could upgrade or customize by adding or swapping out various modules.

Project Ara, Google, smartphones, modular smartphone

Google's Project Ara smartphone initiative, which began in 2013 with the concept of designing a phone platform that would incorporate a wide array of camera, audio and other modules as desired by users, has been suspended by the web giant.

The suspension of Project Ara was reported in a Sept. 2 story by Reuters, "as part of a broader push to streamline the company's hardware efforts," according to two sources who have knowledge of the decision. "The move marks an about-face for the tech company, which announced a host of partners for Project Ara at its developer conference in May and said it would ship a developer edition of the product this autumn," the story continued.

A Google spokesperson confirmed the report to eWEEK on Sept. 2 but declined further comment.

But while Google may not move forward with Project Ara on its own, "the company may work with partners to bring Project Ara's technology to market, potentially through licensing agreements," one of the sources told Reuters.

The Ara phones centered on a baseplate or frame that incorporated a preintegrated display, CPU, graphics processing unit, sensors and all the functionality of a standard smartphone.

The reversal on Ara is stunning. In May, Google executives said at the company's annual I/O developer conference that the first Project Ara devices would be delivered in 2017, according to an earlier eWEEK story. The first Ara smartphones reportedly were to come with support slots for six modules so that users could customize the devices for their needs.

The Ara phone frame was designed to allow users to slide any Ara module into any slot and use the custom-configured device immediately, the story reported. For example, a user who wanted to add a high-resolution camera capability or a more powerful battery to his or her phone would be able to get that functionality simply by adding the appropriate module into an available Ara slot.

Under the specifications for Ara phones, users would not need to reboot their devices or hunt for drivers in order for a new module to work. Provisions to remove modules were just as easy and were planned to be accomplished either by selecting the module and having it ejected using the device Settings app or by using a voice command.

By integrating the core functions of the phone in the baseplate, Google wanted to free up space for modules that would let users create and integrate functionality easily, the company said earlier. The modular slots were designed to support modules for any add-on capability. Each slot was designed to support data transfer rates of up to 11.9G bps while consuming about as much power as a USB 3.0 port.

Google was scheduled to release a preview version of Ara this fall in a bid to spur developer interest in the technology and ensure that modules for a wide range of applications would be available for the smartphone at launch. Organizations that were working with Google in developing modules for Ara included Samsung and Sony. Among the modules that Google was working on was one that would integrate the functions of a glucometer so people with diabetes could measure their glucose levels using their smartphones.

In June, reports surfaced about Google preparing to launch its own Android smartphones to take on those of Apple and other competitors, according to an earlier eWEEK story.