This week in Mountain View, Google held its first-ever developer conference for Project Ara. Developed by a small team within the company called ATAP staffed with ex-DARPA engineers and some of the brightest minds at Google, Ara is a mission to make a modular smartphone. It'd be the last phone you ever needed to buy, because you'd be able to swap out everything from the camera to the display to the battery, in order to always have the exact phone you want.
For ATAP and Google, the goal is to build a device that will make the smartphone accessible to the billions of people who can't afford iPhones and Galaxy S5s. There are huge obstacles everywhere you look, and ATAP is working on an incredibly fast timeline to turn Ara into a product people can buy — there's barely a year left to make it real. But if Project Ara works, if modular smartphones are more than just a Lego-lover's pipe dream, it could change the industry forever. New types of manufacturing, new ways of buying and selling phones, and new ways for consumers to interact with their most personal and most intimate devices.
The project is still in its infancy, but ATAP is finally showing what Ara might be. This is what it looks like.
Photos by Dieter Bohn