The hints dropped last week by the Project Ara developers have sadly come to pass. BBC, The Next Web, and the rest of the tech blogosphere is reporting that Google’s modular smartphone won’t be launching in a limited pilot program in Puerto Rico this year.
I can’t see that anyone has the inside scoop, but we do know that the official Project Ara Twitter account tweeted yesterday that the release had been pushed off to 2016. The pilot is now going to be conducted somewhere in the US, and only after the hardware goes through multiple iterations (in other words, it’s not ready yet for consumers).
Project Ara is the name of Google’s years-long effort to develop a modular smartphone platform. It’s a huge undertaking that has the support of dozens of module builders, telecoms, non-profits, and more.
They’ve all been working for the past several years to develop a system where all of the parts of a smartphone, including everything from the screen to the CPU to the camera (and even the 3G/4G connectivity) would be available as a module that could be bought separately.
The idea is that consumers would be able to buy a frame with a few basic smartphone components, and then buy the modules they need or want. Theoretically, a consumer would be able to upgrade their smartphone bit by bit as new components are released.
Or at least that is how it is supposed to work. As we can see from this delay, the tech is proving far more complicated than anyone had expected (or was willing to admit publicly).
And that’s not good news for the other modular device projects currently under development.
For example, OLPC Australia wants to develop a modular educational laptop, and there is a Spanish company working on a similar tablet concept and a Finnish company developing its own modular smartphone. And several modular smartphone cases have also launched this year.
If Google can’t pull it off, even with all its resources, then what chance do the smaller companies have?