A phone with interchangeable parts intended to reduce electronic waste and allow consumers to keep the core of the device longer than a year or two seemed like a good idea at the time of conception. That's how many describe Google's defunct modular mobile phone design called Project Ara.
Now after several years of development and a possible test run in Puerto Rico, reports suggest the Mountain View company will shutter the project to streamline operations. In May, Dan Kaufman, head of advanced technology and products at Google, described Project Ara as Google's vision for the future of phones that would create an entirely new ecosystem of hardware.
Google wants more control of the technology in hardware devices. It became increasingly clear during a recent discussion about Google's Physical Web project with Richard Graves, CEO at BKON Connect, which makes technology that allows apps to consumer Physical Web content. It manages the content that people see.
Graves described the technology that integrates into Android as a way to connect the device with inanimate objects to serve content on hardware such as phones. The chip in the device scans for Bluetooth low-energy signals in beacons and the operating system within the device decides which Bluetooth low energy signal to expose and how to expose the message or the content to consumers. Graves said the information should change as the consumer moves through the store or at a sporting event. (On Aug. 27, BKON ran a pilot at First Tennessee Park.)
The Project Ara phone, inspired by the desktop PC, would have allowed consumers to upgrade each piece of the device as needed. It had swappable parts providing the ability to swap out one type of camera for another or upgrade to a battery with a longer lifespan. In theory consumers would have the option to interchange the brains or system on a chip (SoC), WiFi and screen modules.
It also would have reduced electronics waste. For those who need to know, the Electronics TakeBack Coalition reported that in 2013, consumers generated 3.14 million tons of e-waste in the U.S. Of this amount, only 1 million tons or 40% was recycled. The rest was trashed in landfills or incinerators.
Google spent years trying to create ways to reduce waste, which brings us to the irony of it all, because each digital advertisement that marketers want consumers to interact with must serve up somehow on an electronic device.
Reuters reported Friday that axing Project Ara is one of the first steps in a campaign to unify Google’s various hardware efforts, ranging from Chromebook laptops to Nexus phones, which former Motorola president Rick Osterloh rejoined Google earlier this year to oversee the effort.
Bob O’Donnell of TECHnalysis Research, told Reuters that Project Ara "was a science experiment that failed." Now Alphabet and Google are moving on.