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Google Delays Test of Project Ara, Its Modular Smartphone, Until 2016

The company says it is now looking for new U.S. locations to test the idea after scrapping an earlier plan to launch first in Puerto Rico.


Google confirmed on Monday that it is delaying until 2016 the first test of Project Ara, its take on a modular smartphone made up of components that connect in Lego-like fashion.

Google had been planning a test launch for later this year in Puerto Rico.

In a follow-up tweet, Google said it is looking for a new U.S. location to test the devices.

The idea behind Ara is that key components of the phone, such as its memory, camera and processor, would be made as interconnectable pieces, allowing customers to upgrade piecemeal to improve their devices.

As for the delay, Google said getting the first devices ready was taking “lots of iterations … more than we thought.”

Ara also flies in the face of the way the electronics industry has been heading: Toward appliance-like devices that are replaced every couple of years.

PCs, for example, once contained expansion bays and ports that made it easy to add a bigger hard drive or more memory. Over time, though, the trend shifted toward sleeker and less upgradeable models, especially laptops and all-in-ones that combine a monitor and PC.

Cellphones, meanwhile, have always been treated this way, with customers typically upgrading as often as every two years.

A modular phone has its appeal, especially in terms of reducing waste, but such flexibility comes at a cost, both financial and in terms of performance. Separating different parts of the phone into components is likely to slow down communication between the parts. In addition, such a device will inevitably cost more than the same components integrated into one sealed device.

Such an approach also hits hard on battery life, with Google acknowledging earlier in the year that some 20 percent to 30 percent of expected battery life was going toward communication among the modules.

Ara is being developed within Android’s future-looking Advanced Technologies and Products unit, headed by Regina Dugan and modeled on the military’s DARPA team she once headed. ATAP had been part of Motorola when Google owned the hardware maker, but was placed in the Android team after Google sold the phone maker to Lenovo.

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