Report: Project Ara, Google's Modular Phone, Has Been Canceled

Getty Images / Bryan Bedder

Google’s dream of a phone with interchangeable parts may have come to an end of Friday, as a new report claims that the company has secretly dropped its Project Ara modular smartphone. Unlike most smartphones, Ara would have allowed users to upgrade individual components like the processor and camera through a sliding mechanism on the device’s rear. It was a bold plan, but two sources speaking to Reuters claim that the idea has been put on hold.

An official video showed Google had many ideas for what modules Ara may have supported. Among the modules portrayed, music lovers could switch out camera and other modules for a powerful array of speakers, photo-minded users could carry an array of different lenses, or, er, people with bad breath could add on a mint compartment. Originally, the components would have been held in place by electropermanent magnets, but that idea was later reworked as the team found an unspecified better solution.

Dropping the project is a high-profile misfire for the company’s Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) division, a team dedicated to short projects that use innovative technology. Ara was announced in 2013, when ATAP was still a part of Google-owned Motorola.

ATAP’s founder, Regina Dugan, left Google in April to work for Facebook’s secretive Building 8 lab. Although Dugan’s departure could have spelled trouble for Ara, Google said at its developer conference in May that the phone would launch as a developer edition by the fall of 2016, while a consumer version was expected by 2017. That same month, Google told Wired that it no longer considered Ara an experimental part of the ATAP team, graduating to its own Google division. Four months later, it appears this new division may have come to its end.

“This was a science experiment that failed, and they are moving on,” Bob O’Donnell, analyst at TECHnalysis Research, told Reuters. O’Donnell also said that, due to the complexity of modular smartphones, he was not surprised that Google was dropping the project.

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