Swapping smartphone modules with Google's latest Project Ara prototype
Google's unique modular smartphone, Project Ara, will be coming to Barcelona in March for Mobile World Congress 2015.
Around 50 of its modular components are also expected to be displayed, though it's rumoured that not all of them will be in working condition. The main Project Ara handset should be a complete working version, however.
Project Ara's modules will allow owners to easily swap out and upgrade various parts of their phone, such as the camera, RAM and graphics capabilities.
Google's modular phone concept is one step closer to reality. With today's announcement of the latest updates to Project Ara and an upcoming pilot program in Puerto Rico, Google has made serious strides in bringing the unique swappable-module phone idea to market. Today, we had a chance to take a look at the latest version of the concept -- code-named Spiral 2 -- and it's certainly a much more polished version of the device than we've seen previously. Indeed, Paul Eremenko, Project Ara's lead, says that the look of the hardware here is "final," or at least very close to what we'll see come final release.
As we mentioned in the announcement earlier, Project Ara's latest prototype includes a slew of improvements and changes over Spiral 1, the previous iteration. For one, the electro-permanent magnets that once held the modules in place are now on the endoskeleton itself -- the core piece of metal that is at the heart of the Ara. This, Eremenko says, leaves more room for additional modules. Google also announced that it has added 3G modem functionality and an analog RF bus to the endo that'll let the company attach antennas from multiple modules to the same modem. There's a new pollution sensor, too.
One of the biggest changes is its aesthetics. Google once wanted folks to customize the Ara via 3D printing, but decided that was a bit too risky. Instead, you can now alter the look of the Ara by printing your own high-resolution, full-color images on polycarbonate, injection-molded shells via a technique called dye sublimation.
Additionally, Eremenko tells us that, right now, you'll need to do that whole battery hot-swapping thing in less than 30 seconds, or else the phone will power down. He hopes to extend that time to one to two minutes by the time the Ara finally ships. Perhaps more worrying is that apparently maintaining the connectivity between modules alone takes up 20 percent of the phone's battery.
Google says it's working to iron those kinks out, and perhaps those worries will be long gone by the time Spiral 3 rolls around. Indeed, Google is already planning on a few improvements, like 4G LTE, high-end camera support and all-day battery life, for the third version of its modular phone. We're still not sure just how long it'll take for Ara to come to market, but it certainly seems like it'll be a while yet. Maybe we should move to Puerto Rico in the meantime.
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