Google Project Ara Update

The Verge got another chance to fondle Project Ara, the big stinkers. They wrote up what little details exist of this most cool work-in-progress.

Project Ara is (a) Google’s experiment to build a fully-modular smartphone, and (b) a strong example of why the tech world needs Google. It’s bonkers. Phones cost anywhere from $0 to $199 on contract and by the time one stops working, or requires an upgrade, we’re kind of sick of it anyway and are ready for a new gadget. So why design a phone in which every major feature — screen, camera, battery, storage, CPU — is a snap-in LEGO piece?

Asked and answered. Maybe we’re all dopes for falling for Apple’s and Samsung’s and HTC’s (and Google’s) constant string of “next big thing” phone announcements. Maybe we’re dopes for buying phones on contract instead of buying them as plain consumer items.

I’m shopping for a new phone right now and when you come down to it, if I can just keep everything I have now and just get a better camera…I’m good. Seriously. Better photos is the engine of about 80% of my lust for new phone hardware and that goes for both iPhones and Android phones. On top of that…how many times have I settled for a certain device because it has everything I want except for, say, removable storage?

Ara would let you build a phone with exactly the features you want. Upgrade specific components without having to ditch everything else.

Another another cool twist is implied, though it hasn’t really been covered: if your phone’s identity is on a swappable module, it’s as easy to have multiple styles of phone as it is to have multiple styles of wristwatches. Your daily carry is a 4.8″ frame and screen, but youalso have a flip or candybar frame on your dresser, for formal events when you’re only carrying a tiny purse or wearing an outfit without real pockets.

But yes, Ara remains a bonkers idea. The concept of a power and data bus with modules that can be ejected and remounted without necessarily rebooting (or crashing) the whole platform is…OK, I’m enthusiastic about Ara so I’ll be nice and describe it as a “nontrivial issue.”

The interesting thing about ideas like this one, however, is that they’re only bonkers until someone goes ahead and actually builds one of the damned things. Figuring out how to land people on the Moon in less than ten year’s time was a crazy idea, filled with seriously nontrivial problems. We not only landed on the bastard…we left three golf carts up there.

Another thing about Ara that I like: Google isn’t afraid to experiment, or even fail, in view of the public. Project Ara may never ship, and it might not even be a marketable product. But this is in no way a sign of defects in Google’s way of doing business. On the contrary. Projects like Ara and self-driving car tech and Glass make plain the tactile, and often fumbling, nature of product development.