Google’s long-awaited modular Project Ara smartphone, announced in 2013 and later postponed, will be available to developers this fall and to consumers sometime in 2017, Google announced Friday at its I/O developers conference.
In a major design shift, the customizable phone will no longer be positioned as a future-proof phone that lets consumers upgrade the processor, cellular radio and other functions. Instead, Google will embed the processor and radio and will let users choose only such hardware features as cameras, speakers, add-on batteries, and third-party modules offering niche features that wouldn’t normally be found on high-volume phones.
The company changed the phone’s positioning because of user studies showing most consumers don’t care about swapping out core functions such as processors and radios, executives said.
The phone will go a step farther than LG’s modular premium G5, launched earlier this year, by offering six modular slots instead of one.
The developers’ edition will ship with four modules: speaker, camera, E Ink display and expanded memory. But Google envisions niche modules created by third-part developers with such features as glucose meters, pico projectors, wireless car key fobs for keyless car starting, and the like.
Google will certify modules compatible with the phone, which won’t be able to run uncertified modules. The company expects to create an online store to sell the modules.
When it becomes available to consumers, a basic version of the phone will cost about the same as premium smartphones and will offer similar performance, company executives said.
The device will be the first phone designed entirely by Google, which in the past has teamed up with companies such as LG and Huawei to build Google Nexus phones and tablets.
Last Wednesday at I/O, Google unveiled its response to the Amazon Echo wireless speaker, updates to its Android Wear OS and its Daydream VR platform, which includes the VR-optimized Android N smartphone OS due in the summer.