Design Digest

Project Ara: Is Google Heading In The Wrong Direction?

Google may be heading in the wrong direction with Project Ara, according to Phonebloks creator Dave Hakkens.

Dutch designer Dave Hakkens dreamed of a completely modular mobile phone. He announced his concept, Phonebloks, back in September 2013 at the same time when Motorola was working on similar idea. They decided to collaborate on the project (when Motorola was still a subsidiary of Google) but it has since become its own division within Google. Codenamed Project Ara, this would be the first ever Google-built phone.

The premise is simple: a modular phone that will reduce e-waste by allowing users to swap out damaged or outdated parts for new ones instead of throwing the whole phone out. A concept for a phone that is more personal and can be adapted to the individual. Maybe you’d like to have a breathalyser with you all the time, who knows.

The premise is simple, the execution not so much.

Google struggled with the magnets that would hold the modules in place; the phone couldn’t hold itself together when dropped.

You could be forgiven if you thought that Project Ara would amount to nothing more than an experimental undertaking. After all, it was supposed to launch sometime in early 2015. About one year and 5 months later, we finally have some news. A developer edition will be shipping this fall (2016) while the consumer version in 2017.


Photo: The Verge

Customisable vs Modular

However, Dave Hakkens isn’t too happy with where Google is taking the project. Instead of having all components of the phone as modules, the screen, basic speakers, processor and RAM are going to be built in to the phone’s frame. According to the Project Ara team, they found out that most users “couldn’t care less about it” and most people didn’t know what their processors did.

Their decision has now brought a new question to mind: is Project Ara becoming more of a phone with customisable parts, instead of a truly modular one? What happens if I drop my phone and my screen cracks? A truly modular phone would allow me to swap out the broken screen for a new one. Maybe Google knows best. Maybe even with all the resources they have, they couldn’t figure a way to realise Dave Hakken’s original dream. Nevertheless, he seems to be happy with the ‘blocky’ design that reflects on the original concept.

Watch the video from Google’s ATAP team here:

Photos: The Verge


So what do you think of Project Ara? Would you buy it when it eventually comes out next year? Hit the comments below and tell us what you think! Don’t forget to share and follow us on social media to stay updated with the latest stories.

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