Project Ara, the world’s first modular smartphone was showcased at Google’s IO Conference this week. While the prototype didn’t quite make it to boot past the Android home screen, it marks a significant step forward for the highly anticipated technology which is expected for release as early as January of next year.
The same way enthusiasts build desktop computers, the modular smartphone would allow the user to seamlessly replace specific aspects of the phone without having to upgrade to a new one. Say you want a nicer camera, just buy the interchangeable part and apply it on.
"We started by turning statements like 'it's impossible' into numbers," said Paul Eremenko, the project’s lead on Thursday. Noting the inherent difficulties to achieve this he also addressed that Android will need "changes" to support modularity.
Amongst a supportive audience at the event, Eremenko fired up the the phone which hesitantly lit up with a bright flash of light. You could catch a glimpse of the the Android logo in its boot up process. The demo ended when the phone crashed after displaying a snippet of the home screen’s watch.
The team is offering $100,000 and a trip to the next Project Ara conference to come up with innovative modules for the phone. Eremenko also mentioned the idea of having a key fob for your car, an expensive camera that different people would be able to share with each other, and night-vision modules.
The act of having to replace a phone almost yearly is not only expensive but costly to the environment. Electronic waste, e-waste, is filling the world's landfills at an alarming rate. Twenty to 50 million metric tons are disposed worldwide each year and over 80 percent of the total toxic waste on earth is attributed to this.
"Guys, this will be hard, but we're going to do it together," Eremenko said.
The team plans to debut a developer preview for this fall. Hopefully it boots up then.
Julian Reyes is a VR Producer for Fusion.