Google is holding its second Project Ara developer's conference today in Mountain View and is in the process of giving a roadmap on how and when it might get its modular smartphones out into the market. Probably the most notable bit of news we've learned so far is that Google plans to have a market pilot ready to go in the second half of this year. Unfortunately, if you want to give it a shot, you'll need to live in Puerto Rico — the pilot will roll out in that territory in partnership with carriers OpenMobile and Claro.
When Project Ara hits Puerto Rico, users should be able to customize their devices using the Ara Marketplace and Ara Configurator apps. Google's ATAP group will also roll out some "food-truck" style stores for consumers to actually check these devices out before they try them out. Google also says that it'll have some 20 to 30 Ara modules available by launch across 10 different categories.
Go get your Project Ara phone from a food truck
Project Ara head Paul Eremenko discussed the reasons for moving to a market pilot — the company wants to learn what its doing well, what it is doing poorly, and what's missing so that they can iterate on the hardware to meet consumer need. Particularly, they want to know consumers respond to the paradox of choice that can come with a system as complex as Project Ara. "We have to carefully curate and manage the way that choice is presented so as not to overwhelm the consumer," Eremenko said.
Of course, to launch a working pilot program, Google will need to produce Ara hardware that fully works, and Project Ara head Paul Eremenko is currently giving a roadmap of where things are going next. Right now, the company is pushing towards having a model that is more robust, can make 3G network phone calls, and is able to hotswap different modules in and out of the phone. These would be improvements on the current "Spiral 2" design and are pretty important pieces of having a working phone. Google is working on these improvements to Spiral 2 currently and hopes to be moving to the "Spiral 3" design by the second quarter of this year.
As Google works on Spiral 3, it'll be looking to bring the phone up to par with much of what is out on the market today — features like 4G LTE signals, a "day-long" battery (that might only come from swapping a battery module out during the course of that day), a camera competitive with others on the market, and the full 20 to 30 different hardware modules that Google sees as important to having the flexibility it shoots for. Google also discussed the possibility of using its platform as a place for makers of cutting edge, experimental battery tech to bring their modules to Ara. Once it completes this Spiral 3 hardware cycle, the phones should be ready for the market pilot.
As for actually managing these modules, Google will include an Ara Manager app that lets you manage the modules — for example, if you were crazy enough to load two cameras onto your phone, the Ara Manager will help you determine what to use at any given time. It'll also focus as a troubleshooting app of sorts, if your custom-rolled phone starts misbehaving. Hopefully, the app will be able to guide you to the problem module.
We should see and learn much more about the status of Project Ara (including hopefully some working prototypes) throughout the day — we'll be updating this post and adding new stories as more news from Google's Project Ara conference as the event continues.
Verge Video: Project Ara - Building the Modular Smartphone