Google scrap heap grows: Project Ara dead, stranding developers

One cannot say that Google is not ambitious with its plans, but there comes a time when even the neatest of pet projects faces the scrap heap. This time around, Project Ara, an ambitious design to deliver a “modular” smartphone, was canceled. The move has many considering whether Google is cutting back on “moonshot” projects or merely streamlining efforts.

Aimed to stop phone upgrades

Here’s the scenario that Ara aimed to solve. Every year new and somewhat better smartphones are released by big name companies such as Apple, Samsung, and LG Electronics, just to name a few. Though it is great to see new devices come out each year, consumers seem to feel the pressure of having to upgrade to a new device every year just to keep up with the trends.

Google, in collaboration with other manufacturers, also releases new smartphones and tablets every year. But a couple of years back, it unveiled a project that had the potential to eliminate the yearly smartphone upgrade ritual. Called Project Ara, the device it touted was a modular handset that featured swappable components such as camera modules, processor, battery, sensors and more, allowing the user to upgrade the device without having to spend as much as buying a new phone. Project Ara was the flagship device of Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP), which aims to streamline its hardware efforts.

The project was noble and many developers and consumers were excited and looking forward to the release of the device, but it seems Google has no luck with hardware. This too has been scrapped, much like its Google Glass project.

A report from Reuters cites sources familiar with the matter, claiming the project has been shelved as part of broader push to streamline parent company Alphabet’s hardware efforts.  Whatever the reason, it is a complete turnaround from its earlier announcement this year that it will be making Project Ara available to developers.

The report also said that while Google will no longer be making the device, it will be working with its partners, possibly through licensing agreements, to bring Project Ara to market. Bob O’Donnell of TECHnalysis Research states that though Project Ara was good on paper, actually making it proved to be tricky because the interchangeable parts make it bulky, not to mention expensive. “This was a science experiment that failed, and they are moving on,” O’Donnell said.

Smartphone saturation?

Despite a number of new releases, most prominently the iPhone 7, there is no shortage of opinion that the market is saturated with smartphone models. The segment appears headed for limited growth in most markets for the foreseeable future. With all of the discussion of “app economies,” “seas” of data, and unending growth, it appears that the competitive market for new smartphones has simply fizzled out. The greatest evolution in these technologies is focused on mobile payments and integrations, which are dependent on cloud-based, enterprise infrastructure, leaving social media behind as a primary driver. Google’s shift in focus away from hardware is telling in the origins of Project Ara and its demise. Hardware is becoming inconsequential.

Image source: Project Ara

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