If you were looking forward to Alphabet’s Project Ara, a modular smartphone that would have allowed users to swap out components at will, steel yourself for some disappointment: according to unnamed sources speaking to Reuters, the project has been canceled.
However, Alphabet may still license the technology to partners. Should news of Project Ara’s demise prove accurate (the project website is still up and running, at least for now), it would represent the latest Alphabet project to meet its end over the past few months. On Sept. 1, Google (the largest of Alphabet’s subsidiaries) announced the death of the Chromebook Pixel 2, effectively leaving the Chromebook market to its manufacturing partners. And earlier this year, Alphabet revealed that it would sell off Boston Dynamics, its robot-building subsidiary.
Combine that with reported problems at Alphabet’s “moonshot factory,” tasked with building next-generation platforms such as self-driving vehicles, and it seems that Alphabet may be doing a little bit of housecleaning.
As designed, Project Ara phones had a frame with an integrated CPU, GPU, antennas, battery, screen, and sensors, along with six slots for interchangeable modules. Those modules could have included speakers, cameras, microphones, additional storage, batteries, a kickstand, and other hardware. That flexibility could have opened up a world of opportunities for power users; for example, photographers could have modified their phone for a powerful camera lens and additional storage, while podcasters could have tricked out their frames with top-notch speakers and microphones.
From Project Ara’s earliest days, however, questions lurked over whether enough users would gravitate toward that customizable model to make the effort profitable for Alphabet. There was also the possibility that hardware producers wouldn’t jump onboard to create modules, which in turn would have limited the usefulness of the phones.
With Alphabet reportedly paying much closer attention to which initiatives will eventually yield sufficient cash-flow, those questions may have ended up dooming Project Ara. But perhaps another firm will pick up and run with the idea of modular, customizable smartphones.