Project Ara, the futuristic, really cool Google/Motorola project that is attempting to make modular phones a reality, is apparently full steam ahead and already fleshed out enough that we finally get details on the operating system and even a release date. While news and rumors about this project are usually scarce, due to the secretive nature of the device, we finally got some more details on the whole thing and what it means for the future, and needless to say, the future is looking bright for Project Ara and the concept of modular devices.
We know about Project Ara, and we know what the goal ultimately is – to get affordable smartphones with customizable modules and features for a device that is truly catered to your needs. The way to do this is by offering a single skeleton board and allowing you to buy and plug in your own components into it to build the device you truly want. This could be a device with a really powerful camera coupled with an average CPU, or an extremely fast device with no camera at all, or even a device where the battery takes most of the available space and lasts for days. Ultimately, it’s up to you, and the goal of this project is to make this dream a reality. The last time we got some Project Ara news, we got to see it in action – the device booted, we got to see how the modules looked and fitted onto the board and what the grand plan was to get this project into the hands of users. Now, we get some more details about how the whole thing is going to work.
First, the OS. While it was always assumed that Project Ara would be running on Android, now we know for sure. Project Ara will be running a modified version of Android L that will support switching parts and modules on the fly. This means that you will be able to remove and replace a module on your phone right away, no reboot necessary. The OS should detect the new part automatically in the background and do the right thing with no user intervention. This isn’t true of all parts, though. CPU/GPU modules and the display will not be able to be swapped in this manner, and there will probably be a few more details on what can and cannot be swapped on the fly that we don’t know yet, either due to our lack of current information or due to technical challenges. For example, swapping RAM or main storage on the fly should not be possible, but maybe those modules are inside the SoC module to begin with and are not a factor . However, surprisingly, the battery will be possible to exchange while the device is turned on, as the skeleton will have a reserve battery that will power the device while you swap batteries. Pretty cool!
Alongside this, we also got a very long exposure on the origins and goals of the modular phone, though a presentation you can see below. We also now know that Project Ara is partnering with Linaro to bring the software side up to spec and allow for the aforementioned modularity and on-the-fly component switching. Linaro has been a long time Linux and Android software partner, so the collaboration makes sense. Lastly, we also got a release schedule, and this project seems to be far along enough for an early 2015 release being revealed as the current target date for consumers. In the meantime, the Project Ara hardware development kit will be getting an upgrade and will have an early prototype device for manufacturers and developers to get a taste of what they will be able to do with the hardware. After this upgrade, there will be a final revision of the hardware development kit that will closely reflect the final, consumer-ready device that you will be able to buy in early 2015, and it will include full modular support and will be available for purchase online, in the same place where you will be able to buy the modules, as the objective is to build a sort of Play Store for the modules and skeletons you will be able to buy.