Google Shelves Plans to Create a Build-It-Yourself Smartphone

Spread the love

Two years ago, Google announced ambitious plans to create a build-it-yourself smartphone for consumers under the codename Project Ara. Now, smartphone enthusiasts will have to wait longer to get their hands on a customizable device, as Google is suspending Project Ara, according to Reuters.

The news may come as a surprise to some consumers, as Google had just announced at its annual developer conference in May that it was still planning on shipping a developer version of the product this fall. But Bob O’Donnell, an analyst with TECHnalysis Research told Reuters that the project has always been a long shot to bring to market, as interchangeable components, such as cameras and batteries, are expensive to make when you have to create a variety of them to fit consumers’ different needs.

The move is reportedly part of Rick Osterloh’s–Google’s SVP of Hardware who returned to the company in April after serving as president of Motorola–plans to refocus the company’s hardware efforts toward other current projects, such Chromebooks, Android devices, and Google Home.

Google confirmed to Inc. that the Reuters report was accurate but declined to comment further.

Dan Makoski,the former head of Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) group, who founded Project Ara back in October 2013, told 9 to 5 Google that, “I’m personally saddened at the lack of courage to take it across the finish line, but I know and respect Rick Osterloh. He was one of the few executives who encouraged me when I first pitched the idea, and trust that he has good reasons to postpone.”

There may still be a chance for consumers to one day get their hands on a modular phone–Reuters says that Google is still open to finding other ways to bring Project Ara’s technology to market, potentially through licensing agreements.

NewDealDesign, a San Francisco-based design studio, worked with Google up until last year to bring Project Ara to life. The firm’s president, Gadi Amit, says that even though a modular device like this is expensive to bring to market, he thought it was an important project because the fully customizable nature of the device forced the teams to think even more in terms of what the consumer wanted.

“What I loved about Ara was the whole notion of really trying to think of people outside of the tech bubble,” Amit says. In his view, in order for modular phones to be available to the masses in the future, a giant corporation like Google needs to take the first leap and “change the market structure.”

Google isn’t the only company working on a phone with interchangeable parts. Last year, a Hong-Kong based startup called Nexpaq launched a Kickstarter campaign to create what they say is the “first truly modular smartphone case.” Although you can’t change out any of the components of the phone itself, the case is customizable through modular features like a thermometer, LED flashlight, and speakers, among other tools.

Should it successfully come to market, the Nexpaq will be one of the closest things resembling a modular smartphone to be available consumers. But that, too, may not be coming soon: backers have not received their cases yet as Nexpaq has run into issues with manufacturing partners.