Google made a lot of buzz in the tech-world in the beginning of 2014 by announcing its plan to launch a modular smartphone platform with interchangeable units. It almost feels like a science fiction project and rightfully so. After-all, the project is headed by former DARPA director, Regina E. Dugan. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is an agency of the United States Department of Defense responsible for the development of new technologies for use by the military.
But what is really behind Google’s initiative? Is it just another way to monetize already booming smartphone market? Or, is it Google’s attempt of securing the company’s role as the authority in Android maker, now that companies like Xiaomi, Amazon and Alibaba are no longer installing Google Play on their devices? If no Google Play is installed on Android devices, there is no return on huge investment made by Google.
The reality is, Project Ara is one of Google’s moonshot projects. These projects are so futuristic that it almost feels impossible to achieve in today’s world. Google’s Free Internet via Balloons project, Project Loon, was also part of the same division which develops Project Ara, ATAP.
A sharable phone among the friends, family or even a village is Google’s first aim. Mobile phone has become a like a important part of our body. People can chose what part of mobile phone one should share with a group, or specifically what hardware feature of the phone. When you insert a high resolution camera module into a tablet, tada, you have a great camera with a very big display.
The one thing that makes Android ecosystem and iOS appstore much better than others is the fierce competition between developers for market share. Google aims to recreate the same competition also in hardware, by giving tools to developers to create their own Project Ara modules. As with any market, with more competition, prices will eventually decrease.
Paul Eremenko, the head of Project Ara at Google, says they want to create a phone which is delightful, expressive, affordable, and aspirational. Last two adjectives sound very appealing to a budget shopper. One could buy a base model when the device goes for sale and upgrade when he or she feels like to. From a consumer point of view this negates the need to upgrade the whole phone every couple of years.
Project Ara is also one of the piece of Google’s big plan to give internet to world’s next 5 billion people who currently doesn’t own a smartphone and not connected to the Internet. Democratizing hardware development like software development, opening a new hardware platform to everyone, will surely make a big impact in the industry. Unlike the software space where half a dozen platforms compete for market share, Google has no competition when coming to creation of a modular smartphone ecosystem.