Ara phone with hot-swappable magnetic modules shipping to developers in Q4

Ara phone with hot-swappable magnetic modules shipping to developers in Q4
Project Ara has always seemed like a great product that would never actually become real. The release date for hardware kept getting pushed back, and Google reportedly had various issues with getting the modules to work properly. All that seems to be sorted out, and Google ATAP has announced that Ara phones will be shipping to developers in Q4 of 2016.

The announcement, during the ATAP session at Google I/O, might have been one of the best of the conference that not too many people saw. The first "wow" moment was Google showing off magnetic hot-swappable modules, meaning there was no need to reboot the device in order to switch out one module for another. But, what really got the crowd going was when the device was put down, and the presenter said, "OK Google, eject the camera" and the camera module popped out on its own. 


Google showed off high-res camera modules and storage in addition to more "personalized" modules. Modules were designed to show off your style, but there were also very functional ones, like a glucometer for diabetics to check blood sugar levels. Google announced a number of hardware partners for modules, including those who have never had access to mobile devices. The story being that Project Ara will be a lively and open ecosystem that could be very different from what we currently know about mobile. 

Google also used the phrase "future proof" a few times during the announcement, which makes sense, since upgrading would be as simple as buying a new module to attach to the base plate. We should get a lot more information later this year, because Google confirmed that developer hardware will be shipping in Q4 of this year, and claimed the consumer version would be available in 2017.


source: Project Ara

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35 Comments

1. o0Exia0o

Posts: 903; Member since: Feb 01, 2013

Project ARA..... I really do like the Idea, I just wonder about drop tests on the phone. If the phone is dropped will all of the modules go flying?

2. Macready

Posts: 1829; Member since: Dec 08, 2014

No, apparently the electromagnetic connections are really strong and require no power to be active.

4. Scott93274

Posts: 6040; Member since: Aug 06, 2013

Building on what Macready said, people have allegedly tried to forcefully remove the modules and were unsuccessful with the magnets enabled. It's all a very interesting design.

16. sgodsell

Posts: 7514; Member since: Mar 16, 2013

I really want an Ara device. I love the fact that I can update the hardware to what ever I want. Including the processor, RAM, and storage using new AP modules. New camera comes out put it on. A new tango module comes out, buy it. This will also save on waste as well. Sign me up.

33. VZWuser76

Posts: 4974; Member since: Mar 04, 2010

Iirc Droid Life reported that the Ara phone will have the CPU, GPU, RAM, display, and battery be permanent parts of the frame. Everything else will be modes and swappable. So not everything will be pick and choose and swappable. But all things considered I imagine the frame will still be cheaper than buying a current smartphone.

9. marorun

Posts: 5029; Member since: Mar 30, 2015

And if one of the module break you just replace it not the whole phone. Apple would NEVER do this kind of phone as this would make them make less profit.

11. TerryTerius unregistered

Well, yeah. Google and Apple are fundamentally different companies. Google is much more willing to experiment in world changing ideas, whereas Apple is more incentivized by profit. That isn't to say that Google doesn't like to make money, but they seem more willing to engage in things that make life for humanity better in general.

42. Napalm_3nema

Posts: 2236; Member since: Jun 14, 2013

I think that's an unfair characterization. They both like profit equally, but one is a hardware company that uses hardware sales to subsidize their software. The other is an ad company that doesn't have to make money off the hardware or software because they data mine whatever has their software installed. Anything Google makes off hardware or software is just gravy on top of the data buckets they sell. Corporations are rarely altruistic, and I can safely say that none in the mobile industry are.

17. sgodsell

Posts: 7514; Member since: Mar 16, 2013

Marorun, it's has nothing to do with profits. But whether the OS and ecosystem can support something like Ara. Android can easily handle something like Ara. IOS and it's ecosystem currently can not. Remember Androids apps can run on a multitude of different processors, because Android uses a runtime (VM), where as iOS and it's apps are compiled and optimized only to Apples hardware. It can't happen anytime soon for Apples iOS. Ah, the joys of a locked down platform with a locked down ecosystem. :-) Android ftw.

22. 444777

Posts: 399; Member since: May 02, 2016

Absolutely Android Ftw Apple Rip

26. AppleVersusAndroid unregistered

You had such a good unbiased post, right up until the end. Either way, it was still civil. Good way of putting things.

30. sgodsell

Posts: 7514; Member since: Mar 16, 2013

Everything I said was 100% true in regards to Android, it's VM, different hardware, and it's ecosystem. Including iOS and it's ecosystem cannot handle something like project Ara. These are the facts. You can pussy foot around all you want, when developers make an iOS app, then it can only run on iOS devices. They can't run on x86 or OS/X. Why do think Apple is trying to push their Swift on its developers, because a 100% Swift app can run on OS/X and iOS devices. For that matter Swift's runtime even supports Linux. Especially since the vast majority of the SBC and IoT devices run some flavor of Linux. Apple has cut up Android in the past saying it's slow and laggy, yet Apple and their Swift is following in Androids footsteps. Even Microsoft is trying to do the same with their Universal apps. Here's a question for you, how long do you think it's going to take Apple to get their app ecosystem switched over to Swift? Its okay you dont have to answer. I already know since i am a developer. It's going to take years.

27. AppleVersusAndroid unregistered

I know this is a wild concept, but how about you don't drop your phone? It's not a toy, you're not a child, be responsible. I don't drop my devices, and I don't buy a product based on how it drops, unless it's a basketball. Point is, we're all mostly adults here, we know how to hold things, stop dropping your s**t.

32. VZWuser76

Posts: 4974; Member since: Mar 04, 2010

No one tries to drop their phones, but it happens. I've owned around 10 smartphones and I only dropped one. It was in my coat pocket and as I was running up the stairs it fell out. It went down almost a whole flight of stairs to land on the concrete floor at the bottom. The screen cracked, but I replaced it. Accidents happen.

3. Scott93274

Posts: 6040; Member since: Aug 06, 2013

A glucometer was one possible feature that I had mentioned in comments sections for previous articles, as a single possible item that would be an instant sell to a whole lot of people. I'm glad that I'm not the only person who thinks so. It's this kind of thinking that we simply do not see from Google's competition.... All that being said, I recall back in 2014 Google stated Ara phones would become available in the first quarter of 2015. I would rather wait for a quality product than get it right away and suffer through poor and glitchy performance, but I really wish they would hurry up already.

5. joeltamaster

Posts: 9; Member since: Sep 02, 2013

what the matter with and and where is the video :)

6. vincelongman

Posts: 5745; Member since: Feb 10, 2013

I've read the Ara frame contains the SoC, sensors, and display That's a pretty disappointing since the earlier models had everything replaceable Not too surprised about the SoC and sensors, I've always been wondering how they'd fit everything if the CPU, GPU, sensors and RAM were separated Hopefully the 2017 consumer model has the display replaceable, so don't have to replace everything in the frame if you crack your screen

7. VZWuser76

Posts: 4974; Member since: Mar 04, 2010

I don't think you'd have to replace the frame if the screen gets cracked. Current phones with a broken screen can be replaced, and they're not swappable, so I don't see why they couldn't do the same thing here. Regardless, I'm sure it'd still be cheaper to replace the frame than it would be to replace a current smartphone. I do agree that it's unfortunate that the soc, and display aren't swappable.

10. marorun

Posts: 5029; Member since: Mar 30, 2015

Thats on developper model its possible consumer one will be possible to change soc ect. dont forget developper model is made so they can developpe modules for additional features ( camera ect ) Maybe Google dont want anyone else developing the core module ( SOC , ram ect )

12. Finalflash

Posts: 4063; Member since: Jul 23, 2013

Well no, I think it has more to do with the "hot" swap-able nature of things here. The SOC and memory likely cannot be separated for the sake of a hot swap. The display I am kind of disappointed about, but I think the hot swap would also suffer from a display being removed. Finally, they kind of have to keep the device to a certain dimension and slimness is a factor. Some vendors might actually go the full distance and allow display removal.

19. sgodsell

Posts: 7514; Member since: Mar 16, 2013

If you actually looked at project Ara then you would have known that an Ara frame can support from 1 to 2 AP modules. The AP modules are Application Processors which contain the CPU, GPU, RAM, and storage. The small frame only supports 1 AP module. The larger frames support 2 AP modules.

45. VZWuser76

Posts: 4974; Member since: Mar 04, 2010

That's how it was originally. But considering what were seeing now, that may no longer he the case. IIRC, one of the reasons for the delay was because the magnets to hold the modules weren't strong enough to keep them in place after a fall. What they have now are stronger magnets that require you to eject them either through the system menu or via voice commands. The problem with ejecting things like the core components, the display, or the battery is that they have to be in place in order to eject the modules in the way stated above. Integrating the core components into the frame solves that problem, and also takes up less space on the frame than if they were in a module. And since the frame has less components present on the frame compared to a full fledged smartphone, the cost to upgrade the frame will be less that upgrading a phone like we currently do. Once you upgrade the frame, you'd the swap in the modules from your old Ara phone and start using it.

13. vincelongman

Posts: 5745; Member since: Feb 10, 2013

Good point, didn't think of that

18. sgodsell

Posts: 7514; Member since: Mar 16, 2013

You read wrong vincelongman. The frame doesn't matter, because an Ara device can have up to two AP (Application processors) modules in one frame. The small frame can only support one AP module. The AP modules have the CPU, GPU, RAM, and storage. That's not to say that you couldn't have another module that offers more storage , and micro SD slot.

25. vincelongman

Posts: 5745; Member since: Feb 10, 2013

Power consumption would probably be too high if you had 2 AP modules I'm not complaining about the frame having the AP module built-in In fact, I think its a good idea since it saves space for other modules I'm only disappointed the screen module is integrated into the frame That makes the frame more expensive and you can't swap displays (e.g. for easy repairs)

8. joeltamaster

Posts: 9; Member since: Sep 02, 2013

div div and br everywhere

14. kiko007

Posts: 7520; Member since: Feb 17, 2016

Sooo.....can I change out internal components? Cuz if not, I'm out. The only things I can think of replacing are the display, RAM, Storage, and SoC.

23. buccob

Posts: 2978; Member since: Jun 19, 2012

camera, sensors, battery, connectivity, loudspeakers... If the companies are enticed to make modules, there will be almost limitless hardware capabilities... This is the next revolution since apps were made popular... Hardware modules will be just as customizable for phones as their software counterparts are.

34. VZWuser76

Posts: 4974; Member since: Mar 04, 2010

Originally that was the plan. The problem was the magnets they used in the beginning weren't strong enough, so they went with this setup, stinger magnets that need to be ejected through the menu or by voice commands. However, I'll bet that upgrading the frame will still be much cheaper than buying a new phone. And when you do, you simply slide your modules from your previous phone into the new one. At least they're trying to make upgrading easier and more cost effective.

41. sgodsell

Posts: 7514; Member since: Mar 16, 2013

There is nothing stopping anyone from making an Application Processor module. So you could even have two different processors, Ram, and storage on one Ara device.

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