back to article Google scraps its Project Ara modular smartphone wheeze

Google has suspended Project Ara, its plans to build a modular smartphone that allows users to customise their own mobile phones, Reuters reported today. The move is “part of of a broader push to streamline the company's hardware efforts”, according to two sources. The announcement comes months after the Chocolate Factory …

  1. DXMage
    Unhappy

    FIgures

    Something that I found very interesting and was looking forward to getting gets canceled. Fricken story of my life it seems.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: FIgures

      Don't feel so bad about this, but don't trust Google to keep itself interested in useful projects either.

      Remember Orkut, Wave, etc.

      1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

        Re: FIgures

        Remember Orkut, Wave, etc.

        Yes, but they weren't useful either, were they?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: FIgures

          Well, Orkut was used (not the same as useful) by thousands of Brazilians and I think it was popular in other countries too (Turkey?). Google killed it to make people switch to Google+, and suddenly Facebook got thousands of Brazilian users.

          1. Fungus Bob Silver badge
            Facepalm

            Re: FIgures

            "Facebook got thousands of Brazilian users"

            Need more coffee, the first time I read that I thought it said "Facebook users got thousands of Brazilians".

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: FIgures

            "Thousands of Brazilians"

            Do you mean "trillions"?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: FIgures

      There was never going to be a big enough audience for this idea to be workable. Pretty much the type of people who read/post on the Reg were the only audience for a product like this, which would mean very small manufacturing volumes - forget any high end or specialty modules. It was doomed from day one, I don't understand why Google even wasted the time with it they did.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: FIgures

        The bulk and general design compromises meant that modular devices were never, ever going to replace mainstream smartphones anyway. You're not in a million years going to get something that matches up to the ultra-integrated slimness and shiny-shiny bullshit of the latest iPhone or Samsung Galaxy with a modular design.

        That said, don't underestimate the size of the geek niche; it'll only ever be a small proportion of the market, but a small percentage of a huge market is still a lot of people; enough to support the device and ecosystem (e.g. third party add-ons) a la Raspberry Pi, even if (I suspect) the buyers would almost certainly have a "regular" phone as well.

        Well, maybe that's what Google thought.

        On the other hand, don't overestimate it. Geeks in their echo chambers tend to get an exaggerated sense of their own importance to the market (#), but even a few million of them don't come close to (I'm guessing) the hundreds of millions of smartphones sold every year, and won't enjoy the economies of scale. Hence why it probably worked out too expensive...?

        Or maybe Google were only doing it for the publicity and never in good faith expected it to make it into production anyway. Who knows?

        (#) A la "I'd buy the PSP if it wasn't locked down and I could run my homebrew" comments on Slashdot, missing the point that Sony's business plan probably revolved as much around it being a mass-market device reliant on non-geek players who they intended getting a continuing post-sale revenue stream on subsequent game sales from. That revenue stream was always going to be more significant to Sony than a few lost sales to geeks; and I'm saying this as someone who sympathises with the geeks more than Sony.

      2. Baldy50

        Re: FIgures

        I agree!

        Also if you drop your phone depending on type the back might fly off mine and the battery fall out but that’s all!

        You smart phone guys probably have a heat gun on standby to change a cracked screen at a moments notice.

        The thing would probably take you minutes to pick all the pieces up and put them back together, not to mention ingress of dust and water with all these pluggable modules.

        1. John Hughes

          Re: FIgures

          You smart phone guys probably have a heat gun on standby to change a cracked screen at a moments notice.
          Well, I just undo a couple of clips and slide the broken screen off.

          Of course, that's because it's a modular smartphone -- a Fairphone 2 to be exact.

      3. Terry Cloth
        Go

        Try a Fairphone

        Fairphone is available, and they're solid enough to be on their second model. It's modular, handles dual SIMs, but also tries to improve the lives of its manufacturing employees, avoid conflict metals, and it comes ``jailbroken'', except there's no jail. They invite you to change the OS to Cyanogen Mod, and they're working on porting Sailfish OS over to it.

        Drawbacks? It's expensive (€530), and only available in the EU. (I suspect it would work in the U.S. of A, given the standardization of comm protocols; you just need a friend with an EU address to be a straw purchaser.)

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Try a Fairphone

          Fairphone isn't really the same thing. The idea Google had with Ara was that there would be thriving ecosystem of modular parts for your phone, so you could upgrade pieces at will. Want a better camera, install an upgraded camera module. Want something you can't get in any smartphone, like FLIR? Install a FLIR module, etc.

          Fairphone makes it easy to replace individual parts, but you can only replace them with what was there before. Unless I'm wrong about their intentions, when the next Fairphone comes out, its modules will only work in that phone, you won't be able to upgrade your Fairphone 2 with Fairphone 3 parts.

          The other problem with the modular phone idea is that smartphones have kind of run up against a wall as far as improvements. Improvements are now largely incremental, and unless you are hung up on specs you aren't going to care about a few more megapixels or an extra GB of RAM.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    We're in the big squeeze right now.

    Lots of prototypes and side projects are going to get the axe in the coming months. That's just a natural side effect of economic recessions, and we're about ready to dive into the biggest recession in recorded history.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: We're in the big squeeze right now.

      So time to short Apple and go all-in on canned goods and shotguns?

      1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

        Re: We're in the big squeeze right now.

        So time to short Apple and go all-in on canned goods and shotguns?

        I would not be so sure. I hope you are wrong, but we will see.

        Part of the long deflationary pressure resulting in having 10 years of "real terms" recession (any "growth has been purely on paper since 2002 or thereabouts) has been money being taken continuously out of circulation and stashed in tax heavens to the tune of 10s (if not 100s) of Billions a year. This is coming to an end. New tax regimes in Ireland, Lux, Holland for FY 2015 have produced some interesting results (like Irish GDP foir the 2015FY being 26% up). If this continues we can see some interesting effects:

        1. States again having money on infrastructure, healthcare, education and fundamental R&D. Real money - not fake money produced by quantitative easing.

        2. Corporations will have significantly higher fiscal incentive to invest in true R&D instead of Californication style M&A and Jinnie style cost-cutting. Before they had only "local" money to play with for tax reasons while the money in Lux, Ireland, Holland, etc was stashed. Now they have real incentive to invest in real R&D and do so GLOBALLY to reduce their tax burden.

        Both of these will result in some money sloshing around which in turn will create some inflationary pressure. That may (or may not - nobody has modelled this properly) soften the recession considerably.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: We're in the big squeeze right now.

          Err, the EU going after Apple for $14 billion in taxes they say are owed to Ireland is hardly the harbinger of trillions of tied up money coming free.

          The reason most of that money is sitting overseas is because companies don't want to bring it into the US and pay 40% taxes on it. That hasn't changed, and won't change until US corporate tax law changes. Given how the two parties in the US seem to be less cooperative than ever, I don't expect that to change whether we end up with Clinton or Trump. If Clinton wins the Trump supporters will believe his likely claim that it must have been rigged, and if Trump wins pretty much everyone will end up wishing it really had been rigged.

  3. J. R. Hartley

    Cor blimey

    What a bloody stupid idea

  4. MatsSvensson

    Surprice...

    Remember the fun old days when you would drop your calculator, and it would pop apart spilling all the button-tops etc over the whole floor?

    I want a phone like that!

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Let's face it: most Google products are crap (but the search engine)

    Most people use them just because they are free or cheap. As long as it is software, it's relatively cheap to produce especially when you take a broad advantage of FOSS software (and giving back little because it doesn't of course has to release software run on its servers).

    But hardware costs, component costs even if they are made in China, and Google can't give it away for free. Nobody would pay for a crappy product even if it is Google marked.

    They are understanding the real world is different from the "cyber" one. Laying fiber is expensive, building and selling hardware is expensive... and to get a return, you need to deliver finished products, not beta one with a few features only...

    1. PaulR79

      Re: Let's face it: most Google products are crap (but the search engine)

      That's some quality manure you're spreading around but at the end of the day it's still just a load of shit. Much like your comment.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Let's face it: most Google products are crap (but the search engine)

        Did I inadvertently touched your little pony? Google is highly overestimated. It took the search engine right, everything else is low quality stuff, often gathered here and there and somehow glued together. It's PR is of course good too, and people are afraid to tell Google is actually naked...

        For the mater even Microsoft had much more successful products than Google, although Bing is pure crap.

        1. PaulR79

          Re: Let's face it: most Google products are crap (but the search engine)

          Swing and a miss. I have no personal or financial incentive to advocate Google but your comment was, and still is, your opinion. It isn't born out by facts and you offer nothing to back up your opinion. You are free to voice your opinion but don't be surprised when others disagree and voice their opinion in a way they choose. As I did.

  6. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

    What's next for the chop?

    Gmail? Google+

    They do seem to be cutting an awful lot of things at the moment. Almost as if they are about to be bought out.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      buyout? let's get some good rumours flying

      I reckon it'll be IBM putting up the stake for Crapita to run day-to-day Google operations. Boris Johnson will select them as a digital catapult for the new post-BrExit e-Tradez deals being struck with the trial Commonwealth 2.0 countries (Mauritania, Kiribati)

    2. Crazy Operations Guy Silver badge

      Re: What's next for the chop?

      Google's business model is to convince people to give them as much personal information as possible for the lowest cost so they can sell it to advertisers or hand it all to the NSA / GCHQ / etc to make Anti-Trust cases go away. GMail, Search, Maps, YouTube, and Android all fall into that category. But there is plenty of stuff that clearly doesn't fall in with those and will likely be cut in short order. I'm anticipating that Google will release one iteration of their Self-Driving Car non-sense and immediately cancel it making the hardware useless (Just like what they did with Nest and Glass). Google Fiber is not long for this world (I'd be surprised to see it last through 2017). The Google 'Loon project is only on life-support for now to garner good will ("We're no evil, we're planning on giving free internet to Africa") and possibly as a loss-leader to reduce their taxes.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Can't do modular ? How about SMALL SCREEN FFS ?!

    Cancel Project Ara and start Project Palmpre.

    To recreate the great form factor of the Palm Pre, but with modern insides.

  8. inmypjs Silver badge

    Really?

    "For tech companies, the interest in modular phones lies in the potential to lengthen a mobile’s lifespan and reduce electronic waste."

    I would have thought increased lifespan is something tech companies manufacturing phones are definitely not interested in.

    IMO modular phones are a dumb idea - way too much space, cost, and unreliability involved connecting the parts mechanically and electrically.

    1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

      Re: Really?

      Exactly.

      The only part of a mobile phone that should be "modular", in other words replaceable, is the battery.

      1. Steve Knox
        Paris Hilton

        Re: Really?

        No MicroSD?

        No SIM module?

  9. DrXym Silver badge

    I don't see how it could have worked anyway

    This doesn't surprise me. I wonder how many people would be interested in swapping out bits of their phone. A few phones like Motorola have tried it and it didn't really take off. All the added complexity of modularity (connectors, bus width, bandwidth, clock, voltage, handshaking etc.) is probably for nought.

    I'd rather Google focus on providing design and support for serviceable phones. Something like the Fairphone where it is easy to replace broken screens, dud batteries etc.

  10. pip25
    Unhappy

    What a shame

    Since I have little faith in Android manufacturers releasing phones I'd actually love to use. It's always "let's choose the one which lacks less features I want compared to the competition".

    I guess my preferences (removable battery, SD card, God forbid a keyboard) have become outdated by industry standards... :(

  11. TheProf Silver badge
    FAIL

    Great idea

    Just like the home PC made using 'future-proof' components.

    'Want a faster processor? Just take the old one out and drop a new one in. It's easy.'

    Yeah.

    The processor you want won't fit that motherboard so you get a new MB. And you need different memory modules too. You think your old graphics card will fit the newly purchased motherboard but, oh noze, no driver for the new north/south/east bridge chipset.

    The only surprise is that Google didn't actually start selling these phones before dropping support after 9 months.

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: Great idea

      The only surprise is that Google didn't actually start selling these phones before dropping support after 9 months.

      Well they aren't Microsoft, are they?

  12. RonWheeler

    Moto Z

    Has taken a big chunk of what i would have wanted from the project anyway - and delivered.

  13. Francis Boyle Silver badge

    The only way a modular phone is going to work

    is by the creation of an industry standard attachment. (If you've ever tried using a phone with a power bank hanging off a USB cable you'll understand why that's a good idea.) Sadly, I can't see that ever happening.

    1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

      Re: The only way a modular phone is going to work

      Two words: gaffer tape. Looks a bit like taping two magazines together, though.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    They should have gone for Lego: http://techy-ben.deviantart.com/art/Brick-Based-Palm-Pad-399712067

    (Pic is much older than that upload. I drew it around dec 2002!)

  15. JeffyPoooh
    Pint

    It's a fundamentally stupid idea...

    It has died a fully-predicted natural death.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Almost.

    I guess it could work... well, it is working in a different way already.

    As others have posted above, Phones like the Moto Z have expendables like speakers or bigger batteries. Some phones have pens. Others have watches.

    This seems to be where the true expansion and repeatability comes in. A partially fragmented device. Say a terminal in the pocket, the display on your wrist, the speakers in earbuds. Each being independent and swappable for the next big thing (assuming they scale on the blutooth being used).

  17. Grade%

    Ara?

    Oh, that had to go once someone suggested an SD card module.

    A bit of consternation in the Google boardroom with the directors looking at each other until in unison: "Kill it!"

  18. Black Rat

    On the surface a modular smart-phone does seem to be a rat hole engineering project. However for long duration space missions, Martian colonies etc where replacing defective gear is bit more tricky then the concept of interchangeable components has some merit. Apollo 13's air filters being a classic example.

  19. Jerry G.

    Modular Smart Phone

    I was anxious to soon see this type of phone available. I like the idea of being able to have a number of different types of modules to allow specific customization of the phone at any time to fit particular situations. There is also a huge advantage as when a function becomes defective a simple module replacement can fix the phone rather than sending it out for expensive service, or having to replace the complete phone.

    A few years ago, I had a phone where the camera went defective and the rest of the phone was perfect. I had to send the phone for service. I had to have a loaner phone for over two weeks. The factory service told me the problem was not feasible to service. I had to replace the complete phone to have the camera back. If I had a modular phone, this may have been a simple very quick module replacement.

  20. Planty Bronze badge

    Anyone could see

    This was always a thing about getting tech mindshare, rather than making a practical, reliable, commercially viable, cost effective product.

    This was never ever going to fly.

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