Just about all developers watched and followed the Google I/O 2016. You heard about the Allo, the Duo and the Google Home air freshener, but something they also squeezed in was a nod to Project ARA. I thought this was dead with no recent news, but they have brought life to the project again so I ask, can this idea work?
For those who don’t know about Project ARA, it is an idea from Google to build a modular phone. Their plan is to have a phone that you can create and be your own. All you will have to do is replace, upgrade and buy new modules for the phone to keep it running. If you want the new camera upgrade, then you don’t need to buy a whole new phone. You just need to pop to a store that sells the modules and then slot it in.
They also say on the Project ARA website, they are looking to expand to the Open Marketplace. This could mean they will expand to allow third parties to build for the ARA phone. Google said at the I/O that they plan for the phone to be on sale in 2017, so we don’t have long to wait. The question about the open marketplace would be if they will have enough companies building for it before it comes out. If the phone drops and there is nothing other than Google things build for it, then it will be a hard sell and an uphill battle to reach the general public.
Why Could It Succeed
Google are known for throwing ideas at the wall and seeing what sticks, so what makes this another egg at the wall and not the new best thing of 2017? I think a lot of it has to do with cost, flexibility and personable. The whole idea is to be able to swap out your modules whenever you want, which brings in the flexibility and the personalisation. Most phone contracts for the general public are 2 years, so when we see a new phone in the middle of this, all we can do is dribble. If they announce a new feature that can be added by a module, then you can get that upgrade then. This also means updates can come faster that rely on hardware. For example, if Apples iOS Force Touch just needs the newer hardware to run that feature, with this you could get told what modules you need to update to get that feature, then do it.
Speaking about another company, as said before they want to open the development of modules to other companies. This could be great to see what they build for the phone and what could be useful. Like the big hype is at the moment, you could have better fitness tracking or blood sugar reader for people with diabetes. The realms are limitless, only bound by how many custom modules you can fit on the phone. It would depend how much room the basic modules you need take up to then how many custom modules you want can get on the phone. The benefit of these being small, easy fit modules though, is they can all be in your pocket for an easy swap over. The phone would just be limited by the imagination of the companies making the modules and by the cost of them.
We would hope the modules don’t cost that much as you would probably want to buy a few at a time and get new ones frequently like apps. If these modules are expensive then people might think why not wait for the next best phone, which will have all the upgrades at once.
Buying the phone will be interesting as well, because you are going to be the creator of the phone. It would be cool if you can basically spec out your phones modules and then put a price to it. For example £200 for the basic phone then 5 X £50 for each module. If you wanted a cheaper phone, you could then either downgrade the modules or you could just get less modules. The flexibility of these devices and the pricing would bring smart phones to more people, while also spreading the rate of updating as well, if they do it right. I think these factors could make the project ARA a starting point for other manufactures to follow.
Why Would It Fail
Project ARA is so flexibly it is amazing, but do we really want it that flexibly. You and me will probably say hell yes, but a general public user which is the main stream manufacturers are trying to hit might not. Think about Microsoft App store, no one wants to build apps for them as no one really wants their phones. They have even had to Open Source and partner with companies like Xamarin to make it easier for developer to build for them.
Does the general user know about Camera or Speaker quality and specifications? No and they won’t want to learn about these technical things. You may also find that the sales people don’t know either. In university I applied to a phone shop sales job, told them I knew loads about the handsets and their OS, but was told you don’t really need to know them things, you just need to sell the phones. So how will they sell a phone and modules that they don’t even understand? I think it will be a hard sell to an average user unless it can be sold as a package. They just want a cool, fast phone with awesome gadgets.
Depending on that would then be interesting if the companies making the modules, or Google want to make modules, actually want to. If they can’t see potential of the average user buying their module, then why would they spend time and resource on the product?
Until It Begins
I think we will really have to wait and see how Google approaches this. If they can package it and sell it well to the general public, then the Open Market will be willing to put time and money to the project. If that all goes well then I see no reason why this could fail as it has what all people want, a flexible, personal and affordable phone. Either way I could see me getting this phone depending on the modules built and price.
Tell me what you think about Project ARA and how it will do when released?