Google's Project Ara could become much more than a smartphone

Project Ara
Just imagine a customizable tablet, laptop, smartwatch...

The first developer conference for Project Ara is going down at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif. this week, and it sounds like the three-person team and its cadre of contractors are gaining some headway.

Ara is set to debut in January 2015 as a "gray phone" to allow for maximum customer customization. With the perpetual talk of customization, the question of whether a Project Ara product actually needs to be a phone at all came up during the conference.

Project leader Paul Eremenko noted that because Ara has been planned as a global device, carriers haven't been assigned to the phone. In fact, Ara's vast modular capabilities mean that there will be pieces devs and users can swap out that allow the "smartphone" to become whatever they want it to be.

David Fishman, a manager on the Ara team, further explained that a Project Ara device (which has been up until this point thought of as a phone), wouldn't need to have a SIM or Wi-Fi module and "still would be able to run an operating system and do what you'd want to do without a connection."

"What is a phone is challenged when you can pick and choose pieces on our platform," he concluded.

IoT and beyond

The notion of Ara being an "internet of things" device was also mentioned, and though Eremenko said the device could be anything, Google intended Ara to be "ultimately a great smartphone first and foremost."

"If it can be other things, we encourage that," he continued. He elaborated that Google decided to hone in on creating a smartphone so something was created, leaving "developers to explore different branches of that."

With Ara being modular, the company is completely open to the prospect of devs and users to explore all the opportunities presented.

"We want to be as helpful but as hands-off as possible for the ecosystem," Eremenko said.

Could we see Project Ara tablets, laptops, smartwatches and more? The opportunities seem endless.

The ambitious project will hold two more developer conferences - one in July focusing on software and another in September about hardware again.