Google’s Project Ara modular phones coming in January 2015

Build-your-own phone to launch with entry-level “grey phone”
Google Project Ara

Google Project Ara

Google’s customisable modular phone, Project Ara, could hit shelves as soon as January 2015.

The initial release will be an entry-level “grey phone” with a production cost – not street price – of US$50. It will consist of an "Endo" frame, screen and Wi-Fi radio – enabling users to swap modular components in and out to tailor the phone to their needs. Google's also planning a high-end version of the phone with a US$500 production cost.

Google Project Ara

Google Project Ara

Google announced the news at its Project Ara developers’ conference, showing off an early form factor prototype device – non-functional, since its screen was broken.

The protoype Ara phone did, however, show off Google’s design language for the phone – it’s consciously avoiding a blocky form factor in favour of “smooth, pebble-like” tiles that slot into the phone’s Endo frame.

Although not present on the demo phone, Project Ara's modules will be held in place by electropermanent magnets – when they’re hit with an “on” pulse, they'll create a bond between the Endo and the module, which is disabled with an "off" pulse; they don't require a constant charge to maintain the bond.

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Google Project Ara

Google Project Ara

Google Project Ara

Google Project Ara

Google Project Ara

Google Project Ara

Google Project Ara

Google Project Ara

Those tiles include everything from processor, battery and RAM modules to more esoteric gadgets – a pulse oximeter that extends beyond the phone’s frame, as well as an infra-red camera that bulges out from the tile's surface.

Google's planning to make Project Ara phones in three configurations: Mini, Medium and Large – roughly comparable to candybar, smartphone and phablet sizes. Project Ara will also make use of 3D printing – Google's collaborating with 3D Systems to create a 3D printing process that's suitable for mass production – creating glossy components with a 600dpi print resolution.

Google Project Ara

Google Project Ara

Naturally, the Project Ara phones will run Android; you'll be able to buy new modules from a Google-run online store. The plan is for a Project Ara phone to have a much longer lifespan than current mobile phones – five to six years, with customers upgrading their phone over its lifespan by saving up for new modules. It's a potentially revolutionary idea – we'll just have to wait and see if Google can pull it off.

READ MORE: Project Ara developers’ kit reveals more modular phone secrets, including multiple battery support