by Juliana Kenny
Google’s annual I/O conference — a forum for developers held in San Francisco — hosts all manner of sessions for developers to learn about working with Google’s various operating systems and services. And sometimes the company makes an announcement that has more relevance for the general consumer. This week, the company revealed that developers will be able to get their hands on Project Ara, a modular smartphone, which should be available for consumers in 2017.
Project Ara has been in the works for years now. The initiative to create a modular smartphone — a device that would allow the user to swap out certain pieces of hardware such as batteries for new ones instead of having to buy a whole new device — has hit some roadblocks in terms of operability and build-out. (It bears noting that Google isn’t the only company that has focused on creating a device like this.) Google debuted Project Ara to the public over a year ago, but a smartphone with interchangeable parts has remained an enigma to developers and users. Until now.
The modular smartphone is part of a growing sector of open hardware innovation. Facebook has explored open hardware as well with its new data centers, but initiatives like Project Ara target bringing open hardware to the consumer. Open hardware is the notion that a system like a smartphone or a data center is decentralized, making the hardware customizable. Many unknowns remain including whether or not Project Ara will hit more roadblocks on its way to user hands, and how many users will adopt it once developers have had their way with it.