Google’s Project Ara, to many, represented a way to defy in-built obsolescence. Instead of having a battery die after a couple of years and take the whole device down with it, or your CPU eventually becoming too old to run the most demanding apps and games, Project Ara promised a modular device that would allow you to easily swap key parts of the phone in and out, essentially providing a skeletal smartphone which enabled easy upgrades and replaceable parts.
Project Ara debuted at Google I/O 2014. Since then, there have been periods of eerie silence following failed tests, leading many to harbor significant doubts about the project.
Now, though, Google has dropped the A-Bomb and Project Ara will see a Developer Edition arrive in the fall. Great news, right? Google pulls it out of the bag.
Well, not quite.
The modular device that Google has now presented is a normal smartphone – that is a device with a processor, GPU, battery and screen – with the addition of six slots for interchangeable modules. In Google’s words, this decision to house the essential components of the device permanently within the Ara frame frees “up more room for hardware in each module.” Sure. But it also denies people the modules for which they would actually want a Project Ara smartphone, the same modules Google was gunning for not so long ago.
Instead of being a device that you can upgrade the battery on, or slip a better processor into, or easily replace a broken screen on, it’s a glorified way to accessorize a slowly dying phone with flashy components.
Where Google had shown ambition, perhaps beyond reach, with the prototyping for Project Ara, what we’re now left with is a glorified LG G5, whose modular Magic Slot allows for the attachment of peripheral devices.
Project Ara has become a normal smartphone with a range of colorful (and as-yet-theoretical) accessories. It’s no longer the geek’s dream smartphone with core hardware you can upgrade and customize. It has sacrificed a key component of the project’s original vision, and you can count me out.