The first phone from Google's ambitious modular device project could go on sale as early as January 2015.
That's the target coming out of the Project Ara Developers Conference, going on today and Wednesday in Google's hometown of Mountain View, Calif.
While the idea is to have a Project Ara handset be almost completely customizable, the phone that could go on sale in less than a year will be a $50 (about £29, AU$53) "gray phone," essentially a frame, screen and Wi-Fi radio.
The Project Ara team, lead by former DARPA member Paul Eremenko, had previously announced a target launch time frame of early next year, but this is the first time a release month has been pinned to a Project Ara device.
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What's up with Ara
The conference is offering plenty of details on Project Ara, which will let users pick and swap the parts of their phone using various tiles, or modules.
For one, those who like a little extra sensory stimulation may be pleased to learn textured modules are planned. The team also described how personal photos could be turned into customized module skins.
During a Q&A break, the team was asked whether there will be any protection built into modules in case a user loses one. Eremenko answered, "to a large extent, that's a question for module developers."
"[It] seems like it would be a useful feature to have in a lot of modules, especially modules that store a lot of information," he continued. "We don't envision it as a platform feature. It would be on a module-by-module basis."
Google is opening up Project Ara hardware creation to developers, save for a few key components. Therefore, it would rest on developers' shoulders to decide what features and protections are built into their modules.
Longevity is one Project Ara's selling points since users won't have throw out an entire phone when it reaches the end of its life, instead swapping out parts as they fail. Eremenko said that as far as the "endo," or endoskeleton of an Ara device, goes, his goal is to have one last 5-6 years. The contact pads that connect modules to the endo are designed not to wear out, either.
Naturally Ara phones are meant to run Android, but there's still work to be done as the OS doesn't support the drivers found in the modular parts. The good news for the Project Ara team, which is beholden to a tight two-year deadline, is that it has the dynamic, problem-solving force of Google behind it.
And for those who were crying "copycat," Project Ara's David Fishman said Google had been working on a a modular phone before it saw what Phonebloks was developing. He said the Project Ara team and Phonebloks founder Dave Hakkens have worked together to create a community around modular devices.