Google has delayed the real-world debut of its modular Ara smartphone, a handset that would allow users to easily upgrade or swap hardware parts, until at least 2016. The Project Ara team blamed the delay on an unexpected number of design changes.
The tech giant had initially planned to hold the first market trial of the modular smartphone in Puerto Rico this year. Such a trial would have given consumers the choice of customizing their smartphones with 20 to 30 swappable modules such as different processors, displays, batteries, cameras and speakers. But Ara’s first market trial will instead take place in a new, unspecified location in the United States, says BBC News.
The Project Ara team used Twitter to explain the delay: “Lots of iterations… more than we thought.” It also said it had “grouped the core functionality” of the smartphone to free up more space for modules chosen by users.
A basic Ara smartphone could cost between $50 and $100, but the actual retail price may go higher depending on the modules a customer chooses. (For more details on how you could tailor the Ara smartphone according to your own preferences, see IEEE Spectrum’s previous story: “Google Wants Your Phone to Go to Pieces.”)
The modular smartphone idea aims to enable people to customize their phones on the fly. An Ara smartphone owner might grab an mp3-player module for a short car trip or swap in a more powerful camera module for vacation travel.
If Google’s smartphone idea takes off, it could also change the way that people currently upgrade their smartphones or replace damaged devices. U.S. customers tend to replace their smartphones every 22 months. But with Ara smartphones, customers could simply buy the latest modules to keep their phones updated. They could even get new screen modules if their current displays are cracked or otherwise damaged.
Jeremy Hsu has been working as a science and technology journalist in New York City since 2008. He has written on subjects as diverse as supercomputing and wearable electronics for IEEE Spectrum. When he’s not trying to wrap his head around the latest quantum computing news for Spectrum, he also contributes to a variety of publications such as Scientific American, Discover, Popular Science, and others. He is a graduate of New York University’s Science, Health & Environmental Reporting Program.