A few months ago I wrote a piece called the “Big Whoop Era” which highlighted that there is no real innovation in tech anymore. Bells and whistles have been added to phones and tablets ever since they started getting touchscreens in the late 2000s but today there is no real wow moment. I was looking forward to this rut being broken by the arrival of true modular phones. And now it seems Google has shutdown the biggest project working on that, Ara. Why? Because they want to “streamline (the) company’s hardware efforts” whatever that means.
The company’s official statement reads that it has “suspended” the project but the delays and lack of updates on the subject don’t bode well. Project Ara was first brought to the limelight in 2015 when an ad dropped that showed a single skeletal structure with interchangeable modules. This phone could change its camera, its battery, its processor, its speakers and input several accessories that would make it a truly customizable phone. It would be the best phone in the world for everyone in the world because everyone could choose what they wanted. And Google chose to kill it.
Earlier this year at the company’s I/O conference, a developer version of the phone was promised this fall with a consumer version coming in 2017. It was originally conceived by Motorola three years ago as part of its Advanced Technology Projects group. Google held on to it after selling Motorola Mobility to Lenovo.
Google’s move is part of its strategy to integrate its hardware division from Chromebook laptops to smartphones. It is also rebranding its flagship Nexus phones and tablets as “Pixel” devices. Bob O’Donnell of TECHanalysis Research was not surprised to see the modular phone die since it was bulky and costly to produce. He said “This was a science experiment that failed, and they are moving on.”
Ara would’ve revolutionized the industry but it would also have made it pretty difficult to make a large profit on phones. Suddenly people would’ve started customizing phones to get the cheapest combination possible with the best specs. And the module market would’ve exploded but a lot of sub par accessories would’ve surfaced. But that’s the case with a lot of markets.
There was a time when cheap knock offs of phone were a dime a dozen until building quality smartphones became the new normal. Before the App store and Play Store arrived on the scene, mobile apps could be downloaded from any third party site on the web. Controlling any market and ensuring quality takes time.
The real problem with Ara would’ve always been the uncertainty of making a buck. Now that Google’s bailed on it however, it seems like the kind of project that would eventually be funded on Kickstarter. Apple certainly doesn’t look like it’ll take over since Steve Jobs hated giving customers choice on the hardware and software combos and voted for a closed system, a strategy the company has strictly adhered to.
While there are a few modular phones like the LG G