Google has confirmed reports saying its modular Project Ara smartphone project has been suspended. When asked about the status of Ara, a Google spokesperson told VentureBeat the phone would not be coming to market, despite the company saying as recently as May that an Ara phone would ship to developers this fall. The decision was reportedly made by Google hardware chief Rick Osterloh, who's been trying to streamline the company's seemingly disorganized product lineup. News of the suspension was first reported earlier today by Reuters.
This is a sad turn of events for fans of the ambitious modular concept, which was put forth by Google's experimental ATAP group under former chief Regina Dugan, who left Google for Facebook earlier this year. About three years ago, the Ara team developed a concept design that reimagined the smartphone as a series of smaller, LEGO-style bricks that could be attached, rearranged, and swapped out in seconds. The logic was borrowed from the high-end PC market, where various aspects of the computer can be changed endlessly in lieu of replacing the whole package every couple of years.
Project Ara proved too ambitious and costly to make modular phones a reality
The Ara group scheduled a pilot test of the device in Puerto Rico last year, but ultimately shelved the plan in an attempt to bring down the device's cost and solve technical hurdles. In May, Google promised a developer version that, contrary to the project's original vision, would not allow users to swap out the phone's processor, battery, or display. Now, it appears the phone is no more, though Reuters reports Google may license the technology to third parties.
For what it's worth, the modular dream appears to live on in Motorola, a company once owned by Google and now a subsidiary of Lenovo. The new Moto Z has modular backplates for things like additional battery power, a projector, and a speaker, though it's nowhere near as customizable as the Ara concept was.