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Google is finally ready to launch its Project Ara modular phone

By James Walker     May 23, 2016 in Technology
Google has announced it will begin to ship early versions of its Project Ara modular smartphone from fall 2016. It has heavily revised the concept over the past year and has removed some of the most innovative modules, such as the processor and display.
Project Ara got its first public unveiling in 2014 when Google detailed its initial vision for a modular smartphone. Ara wants to give you the power to choose the hardware in your phone, letting you prioritise its strengths and weaknesses.
Initially, Google said you'd be able to change almost anything through interchangeable modules. The delayed project has since undergone a bit of a rethinking though, losing some functionality along the way. You'll no longer be able to customise your device with display and processor modules, unifying the core of the phone.
WIRED reports that every Ara device is a 5.3-inch smartphone with six modular expansion ports on the back. The port is a proprietary one developed by Google but it is based on the UniPro open standard. It can transfer data at up to 11.9 gigabits per second, giving developers the freedom to create demanding modules.
Releasing a module is as simple as tapping a button on the side of the phone and then tapping the module to release. It is immediately detached without the phone turning off. If two button presses are too much for you, you can even use voice commands like "OK Google, eject the camera." Inserting a module just involves connecting it to one of the ports.
Google took Ara to Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February, hoping to gain attention from potential module creators. Ideas that have been pitched since include add-on projectors, high-quality cameras, flashlights, speakers and fitness trackers. Modules can also be purely cosmetic such as style blocks, phone kickstands and pillboxes. Google is keen for Ara modules to be able to do anything, making your phone truly unique.
Ara's new vision is a reflection of what people actually care about in their phone. The original concept of changing your phone's memory and processor at will was unlikely to appeal to general consumers, most of whom don't know which processor their phone has and are happy not to care.
There's now a clearer vision for what Ara modules actually do. You buy a framework phone and make it unique with a collection of interchangeable parts. Whether you have a torch or lipstick holder on the back of your phone is entirely up to you. You may start the day with a camera in one of the slots and switch it out later for a big speaker. Ara is about making your phone adapt to what you are doing.
The delays in Ara's development mean it is no longer the first modular phone to hit the market though. Earlier this year, LG publicly launched the G5. It includes a range of snap-in accessories including a camera grip, additional battery and sound system. It is clear consumers are wanting more personalisation control from their phones, something Google and LG appear willing to provide.
The first Ara Developer Editions will begin shipping from the fall. After that, the project should finally get a consumer release sometime in 2017. Google hopes it will shake-up the smartphone market with a new and innovative concept for people who are tiring of increasingly repetitive phone launches.
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