A Decade On: Project Ara's Vision for Modular Smartphones Resurfaces

A Decade On: Project Ara’s Vision for Modular Smartphones Resurfaces

Reviving the Dream of Modular Devices

It’s been precisely a decade since Google, together with its subsidiary, embarked on an ambitious venture called Project Ara, with the audacious aim of bringing modular smartphones to the masses. A decade later, it’s time to revisit this remarkable project that once held the promise of revolutionizing the smartphone industry.

Project Ara was a simple yet groundbreaking concept: a smartphone built on a skeleton chassis that could accommodate a variety of hot-swappable modules. These modules ranged from batteries and memory to cameras and processors, enabling users to not only customize their smartphones at a hardware level but also facilitating easier repairs and upgrades. It offered the tantalizing prospect of owning a phone that could evolve with you, eliminating the need to replace your entire device every time you craved a more powerful or feature-rich experience.

Regrettably, the road to realization was fraught with challenges. Google’s vision to bring modular phones to the market encountered difficulties in sorting out the intricacies of modular parts, concerns over durability and compatibility, and the daunting task of creating a user-friendly model for modular smartphones. As a result, in September 2016, Project Ara was left by the wayside.

Motorola did take a brief torch-carrying attempt at modularity, introducing phones with hot-swappable back panels, promising a larger battery or enhanced camera capabilities. However, the market did not embrace the idea, and these Moto phones shared the fate of the dodo.

The story of Project Ara is not unique in the world of modular consumer devices. Few have managed to gain significant traction. Notably, Razer’s Project Christine, a modular gaming PC platform, garnered attention for its slick design but never found its niche. This was perhaps predictable, as traditional PCs already offer some degree of modularity, allowing users to upgrade and swap components with relative ease.

Some laptops do provide room for memory upgrades or Wi-Fi card replacements, while devices like the Steam Deck and PS5 support do-it-yourself SSD upgrades for those willing to delve into the hardware.