Remember the episode of the Simpsons where Homer made his own car? Well, Project Ara is what will let you make the phone equivalent of that godawful bubble car.
The brainchild of Google's Advanced Technology And Projects group, the idea behind Ara is that it will be a completely modular phone. We’re yet to see a working Project Ara phone in action, but some plastic design prototypes shown off at MWC 2015 by the smartphone manufacturer Yezz, who'll be making its own modules for Ara, tell us a bit how the thing will work. Assuming it’s not just an elaborate Google joke, that is.
Meet the modules
The phone equivalent of lego, Project Ara works with modules that interface with each other. You might have one for the processor, another for the screen, one for the camera, the processor and so on.
These modules communicate over standardised metal contacts on their undersides. You’re effectively dealing with components with Project Ara, but each is packed in a form that avoids you seeing too many circuit boards and capacitors.
An obvious question is: why? Why do we need a piece-by-piece custom phone when there are more mobiles out there than any sane person can keep track of?
Well, Google’s labs aren’t exactly afraid of indulging the odd weird idea, and this sort of project lets more adventurous phone buyers create something truly unusual. Something the conventional phone-makers simply couldn’t justify making.
Birth of the frankenphone
How about a phone with a gigantic camera sensor? One with 128GB storage? Or one with a battery that’ll last three days?
One of the more unusual modules Yezz mocked-up for its MWC 2015 demo was an LED light module with loads more power than your average LED flash. It would really turbo-charge a phone’s video-shooting skills.
This style would also mean a phone is upgradeable. Want to boost resolution from a 13-megapixel camera to a 20-megapixel one? No problem.
Still a mystery
While there’d need to be some level of grippiness to the modules to avoid your Project Ara phone falling into a half-dozen pieces should you drop it more than 10cm, Yezz is clearly embracing the quick-change customisation of this design style.
That these demo models are basically plastic bricks that don’t do anything tells you about how close to release we are with Ara, though. It has been talked about since 2013, but we don’t know when it’s coming or how much it’ll cost. It’s still a bit pie in the sky right now.
Your phone also going to look pretty, well, odd. Project Ara demos to date have screen the phone look pretty much as you see it in these photos. It’s all a bit Frankenstein’s monster. Of course, most people aren’t going to buy a Project Ara device and want to hide its unusual style. It’s all part of the appeal.
Until Yezz gets a working sample, though, our Project Ara bubble car dreams are going to have to stay just that.