Google Project ARA and The Concept of Modular Smartphones

Google Project ARA
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Imagine a phone that you can easily customize and that too at an unprecedented scale. Like completely build your smartphone from scratch. That would be super cool right? Well, the Google Project ARA was all about it. Sadly, the project never made in manufacturing and was canceled.


So, what went wrong? Let us try to understand in this article.

Google Project ARA

Project ARA was a modular smartphone project which was under development by Google. The project was seen by Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) which was under the Motorola Mobility and Google retained the ATAP group before it sold Motorola to Lenovo. Then Project ARA came under the Android development team and later as an independent operation before it got canceled in 2016 before the production began.

The Concept of Project ARA

The whole concept of Google Project ARA was to make smartphones completely modular and for that, Google would provide a “frame” on which each of the hardware modules would snap and make the device functional. The hardware modules would have common hardware parts like displays, batteries, processors, and cameras and with time the company planned to come with even more specialized components.

Also Read: Google is Developing its Own SoC for Pixel Phones

The plan was to provide frames in three size variants, which would have the following specifications:

FrameDimensions (in mm)Module Slots at the Back

The aim was to have modules inserted into these metal endoskeleton frames known as “endos”. The frame would act as a bridge for data transfer from each of these modules and the data transfer speed from modules was expected to be up to 10Gbits/second. The frames were the only components that Google would manufacture, and rest modules were supposed to be manufactured by other companies. The frames were expected to cost around USD 15.

Google Project ARA
Project ARA Phone with Modules and Frame (image via The Verge)

The modules would provide basic hardware components like cameras, speakers, and other stuff. They could also provide high-end features like night vision sensors, laser printers, and some other stuff. The modules were also supposed to support hot swapping without turning the smartphone off.

Google also planned to sell these frames with a starter kit that would include a display, battery, a low-end CPU, and Wi-Fi for USD 50.


So, you have a frame where you can add a display of your choice (LED or LCD), the camera of your choice, and anything of your choice. So, what went wrong and the Google Project ARA was canceled?

Also Read: AMOLED vs LCD(IPS), Which One to Go With?

To understand this better we should look why the modular smartphones are problematic as of now.

Problems with Modular Smartphones

The main problem is the economic feasibility of these devices. For example, even if Google sold a frame for say USD 20. One still would have to buy a good processor, camera, and display. The problem is no one knows how much these would have cost if one wanted to buy the good ones.


Considering that everyone would want to buy good modules for their smartphones, another problem would be the availability. Say one wants a very high-end processor and it has to be bought separately so one would have to wait if the processor isn’t available or any of that reason. Now, this is a real problem because the majority of the users want a smartphone that comes ready-to-use out of the box and they will find this very annoying to buy stuff separately and wait.

Let’s assume that we bypassed these big problems, another problem is the compatibility and optimization of the smartphone. Cleary, in order to upgrade a smartphone, you simply can’t just change the processor and assume that everything will work smoother now. You would need to upgrade the RAM to match the processor’s demands. And then is the issue of optimization too. How well optimized a smartphone would be if it has different hardware modules that keep getting changed?

So, these are some of the noticeably big issues with modular smartphones and it might also be the reason why the Google Project ARA was canceled.

Future of Modular Smartphones

The technology is progressing towards the sunnier side and we might see modular smartphones become a thing, but this will be successful if done gradually. Like first provide users to add or replace modules to upgrade RAM, storage, battery capacity, and observe the response and performance of these phones in the real world. Then progress slowly towards the complete modular smartphones. The concept of modular smartphones is a cool one and could be a notable change if implemented properly.


So, this was all about Google Project ARA and the concept of modular smartphones and how these would look like in the feature. Do let us know your thoughts on modular smartphones.

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