Google, Inc. has long said it wanted to change the future of smartphones. Its $50 modular smartphone might let it do just that—and could also lead to changing the smartphone as we know it forever.
Google intends to achieve this aim with Project Ara, an initiative that aims to develop a free, open hardware platform for creating modular smartphones. As envisioned by Google, the Ara modular smartphone will look pretty much like a Lego set.
The backbone of the Ara modular phone will be a structural frame to which modules of the owner's choice will be attached. These modules will include the display, a keyboard or a battery.
In contrast to the standard smartphones, the Ara modular will allow a user to easily upgrade individual modules when new technologies emerge or to discard damaged modules. This modular system will enable a user to piece together a mobile that meets his unique needs.
Paul Eremenko, Google's Project Ara head, announced this week that the modular phone will go on sale in January 2015. It will, however, be a "barebones" unit consisting of a frame, a display, a Wi-Fi connection and a processor.
A user can later on add whatever major components he wants such as a camera, speakers, GPS and other common smartphones features. For want of a better name, Google refers to its modular phone as the "Grey Phone."
"It's called the Grey Phone because it's meant to be drab grey to get people to customize it," Eremenko said.
Eremenko said the core frame of the Grey Phone will be built to last from five to six years. This will enable users to upgrade their phones regularly by buying cheap individual components like a better camera or a new 4G radio from an app store-like shop.
Eremenko noted that the basic framework and modular nature of the Grey Phone can be used to build any number of devices.
"'What is a phone' can be challenged when you can pick and choose pieces on our platform," said David Fishman, a Project Ara team manager. "It would still be able to run an operating system and do what you'd want to do without a connection."