bit-tech.net

Google pledges January launch for Project Ara

Google pledges January launch for Project Ara

Google's Project Ara, created by one-time subsidiary Motorola and based on Dave Hakkens' Phonebloks concept, is scheduled to hit the market in January 2015.

Advertising giant Google has confirmed that it is forging ahead with the Project Ara modular smartphone concept, and plans to release the first commercially available parts in January 2015.

Originally developed by Motorola Mobility based on concept work carried out by Dave Hakkens under the name Phonebloks, Project Ara was acquired by Google when it picked up the Mobility division from Motorola. Although the company would go on to sell the bulk of Motorola Mobility to Lenovo it kept hold of Project Ara, announcing in February this year commercialisation plans for the technology.

Project Ara aims to offer the same level of customisation available in the PC world to the smartphone - and, eventually, tablet, markets. The Ara platform uses a central chassis dubbed an Endo, to which component modules are connected via magnets. These modules contain everything from the display to the processor, storage, camera and battery, and can be assembled in almost any combination or pattern. As well as ending the annual phone upgrade cycle - the Endo itself, Google claims, would be good for five to six years - by offering the chance of incremental upgrades, the system would also allow for complete customisation: one Endo may have a high-end processor and high-spec camera, while another opts for a slower processor, no camera and a bigger battery for longer runtime.

Google held its first Project Ara developers' conference this week, and CNET reports that it offered a timeline to commercialisation: the first Project Ara Endo will be on sale, barring any major setbacks along the way, in January next year for just $50. It will be joined by a range of component modules, although the specification and pricing for these has not yet been confirmed.

Google also outlined fabrication hardware for the modules themselves, developed in conjunction with academic and business partners and taking the form of large-scale 3D printers capable of working with conductive materials. More details on these will be provided at the next conference in July.

22 Comments

Discuss in the forums Reply
Maki role 16th April 2014, 10:36 Quote
If it works well, I could see this being really interesting actually. I'm quite keen on the idea that if the cards are played right, it could allow for smaller companies to simply make modules for the big boys. Currently the phone market is almost impervious to all but the biggest players as you have to out-do them on every front (no mean feat either). But this could in theory allow a smaller company to make a module that simply focuses on one small aspect like the camera, battery or storage or something we haven't seen yet. Whether that will actually end up being the case is unknown, but at least there's a possibility.
GuilleAcoustic 16th April 2014, 10:43 Quote
I really have great hope and expectations on this project. Maybe we'll finaly be able to pay only for the features I need ... and then we could upgrade only the parts that we need to upgrade.

I really love physical keyboards on smartphone, like the old Droid. Hope that kind of module will see the light.
Umbra 16th April 2014, 10:45 Quote
Oh Dear, someone just threw up all their Apple juice at the thought of all that accessibility and non-propriety :(
MSHunter 16th April 2014, 12:16 Quote
Wait what just magnets to hold the phone together?? I remember there was a locking bar with 3 screws in the original design. Oh dropped my phone... crap cpu rolled under a bus....
siliconfanatic 16th April 2014, 12:22 Quote
Most likely we're looking at neodymium magnets... not so much "crap module popped out" and more "crap, the bus stuck to the phone"... :D
bawjaws 16th April 2014, 12:25 Quote
Yeah, not convinced by the idea that this stuff will be held together by magnets. However, the concept itself looks very interesting indeed, although I have the feeling that a phone built from these blocks is going to have to be a lot bigger than an equivalent-spec current phone.
ashchap 16th April 2014, 12:43 Quote
I'd love to be proven wrong but surely these devices will be larger, more expensive and less reliable/robust than normal phones. In which case I can't see the concept taking off.
siliconfanatic 16th April 2014, 12:50 Quote
I honestly don't see the problem with phones gaining a little heft... who knows, maybe they won't be so d@mn flimsy then...

I said neodymium magnets, but I'd love to have proof of just what type they are so I can qoute bomb anyone who automatically spits out that magnets can't do there job right... From what can see, they also slide in, and magnets should provide more than adequate traction to keep them in place.
AlienwareAndy 16th April 2014, 13:00 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by ashchap
I'd love to be proven wrong but surely these devices will be larger, more expensive and less reliable/robust than normal phones. In which case I can't see the concept taking off.

Survey last year showed that phones are getting bigger, as is the desire for bigger phones.

Given phones are pretty much no such thing now (IE people use them for a million reasons other than the actual phone part) it makes sense. We want a tablet we can use as a phone when we feel like it, and 5" seems to be the sweet spot as it still (just about) fits in the pocket.

Those wanting a phone in the strictest sense won't care about what else it does and will use Blackberry or cheaper devices.
Gareth Halfacree 16th April 2014, 13:20 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by siliconfanatic
I said neodymium magnets, but I'd love to have proof of just what type they are so I can qoute bomb anyone who automatically spits out that magnets can't do there job right... From what can see, they also slide in, and magnets should provide more than adequate traction to keep them in place.
According to the Project Ara Module Developers' Kit documentation, the modules attach via electro-permanent magnets.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Project Ara MDK
3.2.2. Electro-permanent magnets (EPM)
The EPMs provide a low-power and user-controllable method to securely attach modules to slots in the endoskeleton. The EPM has two selectable states: the attach state and release state, corresponding to high and low levels of magnetic force. Electrical power is needed to switch between the two states only; the EPMs require no sustained electrical power to maintain either state.
EPMs in the attach state provide sufficient magnetic force to secure modules into their slots on the endo throughout all nominal usage scenarios. EPMs in the release state provide a residual magnetic force to prevent modules from falling out unless the user deliberately removes the module from the endo. Users should be able to remove modules with minimal effort when the EPM is in the release state.
3.2.2.1. Rear Module EPM - Specification
The 1x1 and 2x2 modules each use a single EPM. 1x2 modules use two EPMs, one for each valid module insertion direction. Each EPM must provide a minimum holding force of 30 N in the attach state, and 3 N in the release state. This force must be applied in the insertion direction of the module, i.e., in the X direction. The EPM attachment surfaces on the endo are made from Hiperco-50 alloy to provide enhanced magnetic holding force. EPMs control functions are defined in the System-Level Functions section. The EPMs must be shaped to conform to the pebble-like form expressed by the Ara module design language. They must install flush with the module base to form a smooth outer surface.
[...]
3.2.2.3. Front Module Attachment - Specification
Front modules attach to the endo with an EPM and ball-spring plunger assembly. The ball-spring plunger aligns front modules to their slots in the X direction (side-to-side) and prevents modules from sliding out. Once in place, an EPM secures the module in its place until deactivated by the user.
There's then some pretty diagrams on pages 46 and 47. Oh, but there's also this warning:
Quote:
Originally Posted by Project Ara MDK
There are no known commercial sources for miniature EPMs, such as those needed for Ara modules. Developers are encouraged to fabricate their own EPMs in accordance with the specification above. The Project Ara team is also working to establish a supply base for EPMs. In the near term, limited quantities will be available from AQS and NK Labs.
So, don't expect masses of modules to be available in January.
r3loaded 16th April 2014, 13:43 Quote
The electro-permanent magnets are the clever part as they allow the modules to stick securely to the phone but can be switched off and don't require power for the magnet to function.

The other clever innovation is the capacitive contacts. There's no physical connector so there's nothing that can be worn out, but this connector can still provide gigabits of bandwidth between the mainboard and the modules. The exception is RAM which needs far more than that so it'll be soldered to the mainboard or on the SoC in a PoP setup.

Overall, I'm a lot more optimistic now about Ara after reading about these innovations. As always, mass production will be the only tricky part left.
Yadda 16th April 2014, 14:08 Quote
I wonder how this will influence mobile phone camera development. Could we see bigger, higher quality interchangable lens and sensor modules?
bawjaws 16th April 2014, 14:10 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by AlienwareAndy
Survey last year showed that phones are getting bigger, as is the desire for bigger phones.

Screens are getting bigger, but in general phones are getting thinner and bezels are getting smaller. I can't see Ara delivering the same level of thinness, for example, as current smartphones, or integrating screen, front-facing camera and other sensors into a thin bezel. It's one thing having a phone with a 5"+ screen which is less than 1cm thick and has a bezel of 3mm, but the same size screen in a 2cm thick phone with a 6mm bezel is going to be a nightmare to hold and use unless you have hands like shovels :D
dstarr3 16th April 2014, 16:01 Quote
Well, it's been this long, and modular PCs are here to stay. Loads of people build their own PCs. That's fine. But modular laptops never happened, because the engineer a laptop that performs well, maintains decent battery life, and fits in a small form factor, you have to avoid modularizing it. All the components are engineered to fit into its own determined space for maximum efficiency, performance, cooling, et cetera, in minimum space. Phone are getting bigger, and that's fine, but I think a modular phone that performs as well as current phones would have to be diabolically large.

And also consider the number of people who build computers versus the number who simply buy one. Expect an even smaller percentage of users building their own phones, surely. And that will drive cost up quite a bit.

But cost will likely be the most damning thing. I haven't paid for a cell phone in years, because I always get them free with a contract renewal. Cell phone providers love throwing free phones at you if it means two more years of the privilege to charge you a monthly fee. I highly doubt there will be a way for cell phone providers to give customers a complete modular device that competes with common phones for free.

I feel this will be far too niche for it to take off very well.
wolfticket 16th April 2014, 16:19 Quote
Yeah, the reasons phones these days can have such large screens and still remain usable (ymmv) is that in most other respects they are very compact indeed.

As much as this looks a good idea on paper I really can't the the advantages outweighing the disadvantages.

I simply can't see a way in which such a design won't add bulk, complexity and cost such that a fully integrated phone is a better option in spite of the lack of upgradability.
SuiSid3l 18th April 2014, 17:37 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by wolfticket
Yeah, the reasons phones these days can have such large screens and still remain usable (ymmv) is that in most other respects they are very compact indeed.

As much as this looks a good idea on paper I really can't the the advantages outweighing the disadvantages.

I simply can't see a way in which such a design won't add bulk, complexity and cost such that a fully integrated phone is a better option in spite of the lack of upgradability.

till you drop your phone and your shelling out 600 dollars for a new one when you could just swap out a part or two.

http://www.theverge.com/2014/4/15/5614748/project-ara-building-the-module-smartphone

It's not that large at all. And as a matter of fact last week when they went to unveil the phone someone dropped it and broke the screen, instead of being **** out of luck they simply took 5 seconds to swap it out. Explain to the how this is outweighed by a phone built to a certain spec that is 95 percent irreplaceable. You seriously wouldn't give up 2mm of thickness for that? And they are only gonna get better at making them.

Now you can have expanded memory, several variations of cameras, extra battery life and all from hundreds of manufacturers. ya know, that thing called "competition". How many phones have come out that people adore but won't buy because of 1 deal breaker. Shitty battery life or not external sd slot or lackluster display.
Yadda 18th April 2014, 17:47 Quote
I like the idea but I'm not sure the colour of that prototype is doing them any favours. They'd be far better off adopting a more stylish look like Apple do with their iTat. It's what the high-end gadget market sems to like.
wolfticket 18th April 2014, 19:14 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by SuiSid3l
till you drop your phone and your shelling out 600 dollars for a new one when you could just swap out a part or two.

http://www.theverge.com/2014/4/15/5614748/project-ara-building-the-module-smartphone

It's not that large at all. And as a matter of fact last week when they went to unveil the phone someone dropped it and broke the screen, instead of being **** out of luck they simply took 5 seconds to swap it out. Explain to the how this is outweighed by a phone built to a certain spec that is 95 percent irreplaceable. You seriously wouldn't give up 2mm of thickness for that? And they are only gonna get better at making them.

Now you can have expanded memory, several variations of cameras, extra battery life and all from hundreds of manufacturers. ya know, that thing called "competition". How many phones have come out that people adore but won't buy because of 1 deal breaker. Shitty battery life or not external sd slot or lackluster display.
25% overhead is not inconsiderable. You could use some of that saving to get insurance.
It looks like a substantial drop could damage the infrastructure and multiple modules anyway.
Repair and replacement screen are also possible with current flagship phones. While they are not replaceable by the user and so cost money to fit, one would imagine the parts are cheaper than the modules.

When I look at this I see the various attempt to make laptops commonly upgradable.
Components depreciate too quickly, the new modules will be too expensive and when people get a new phone I think usually they want a general spec bump and a shiny new thing to play with for a minimum cost (often not paying upfront).

Don't get me wrong, I really like the idea and hope it at least take off enough to be a niche option, but I just don't see it happening.
I think they're woefully underestimating the amount most people will pay (both in terms of cost and design) for an ability to upgrade and adapt that they may never use.

As far as I can tell most people don't actually care about memory, GHz, megapixels, mAh etc, certainly not enough to pay extra for the option to upgrade them at some point in the future.
They either want the latest and greatest package or the bare minimum at good price. This offers neither.
Nexxo 18th April 2014, 19:47 Quote
I can see it happening. It makes lots of sense.

- Easy to upgrade
- Easy to repair
- A central aluminium "spine" which offers more structural integrity than a plastic case
- Modules are compact and light, so if you do drop them they are less likely to get damaged (and if they are, just swap them)

Definitely a niche product, but there are a lot of hardcore Android modders out there.
.//TuNdRa 18th April 2014, 20:21 Quote
I would honestly pick up Project Ara if it works out that there's a large enough manufacturer following,

Mainly because it would let me make a phone how I want it, so I don't need some stupid 1440p screen on a 5" form factor, but I can keep the awesome CPU and GPU that I'd like to cram in there, for example.
siliconfanatic 20th April 2014, 00:51 Quote
^this^
ferret141 20th April 2014, 14:52 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by MSHunter
Wait what just magnets to hold the phone together?? I remember there was a locking bar with 3 screws in the original design. Oh dropped my phone... crap cpu rolled under a bus....
Quote:
Originally Posted by siliconfanatic
Most likely we're looking at neodymium magnets... not so much "crap module popped out" and more "crap, the bus stuck to the phone"... :D

Day makers :)
Log in

You are not logged in, please login with your forum account below. If you don't already have an account please register to start contributing.



Discuss in the forums