The rise and fall of Ara, Google's cancelled modular smartphone

Project Ara will always be one of the most fascinating and tragic stories in the history of smartphones. From its strange rise in 2013, boosted by its proximity (and similarity) to competitor Phonebloks, to its eventual goal of being released as a barebones $50 kit to enable low-income families in developing nations access to the internet, its ambition was always evident.

But in September 2016, after Regina Dugan left ATAP, the Google division in charge of Ara, for a job at Facebook, then-new head of hardware at Google, Rick Osterloh, suspended the project.

In the intervening three years, though, Ara developed a loyal and vocal group of supporters, many of whom mourned the project's passing with considerable emotion.

Harrison Weber of Venturebeat has the full story of how Ara came to be and what, with a few different decisions along the way, it might have been.

The sheer audacity that brought Ara to life — a phone you could create, block by block — made it impossible for [it] to succeed.

The dream of Ara: Inside the rise and fall of the world's most revolutionary phone

Daniel Bader

Daniel Bader was a former Android Central Editor-in-Chief and Executive Editor for iMore and Windows Central. 

  • I knew it wouldn't work. I should work for Google but taxis it is!
  • That's not true. If you take a look at the Greg K-H Linux lead developer G+ posts, a lot of companies got interested on "greybus" concept of modular phones, and some notebooks and phones in a near future will rely on it. The code that will handle these conections are now part of Linux Kernel. Not entirely a "failure"
  • Thank you mister, i did not know about this.
    Now i'l have a great deal to read up on and some tinkerin in the future to do :)
  • People who "know" things won't work do not belong on the forefront of science and technology, or at companies like Google. They call these"moonshot" projects for a reason, they know they probably won't be feasible, the goal is to try anyway and see if you can make it work. If everyone always listened to the people who know things won't work, we'd likely be reading from pieces of vellum by candlelight...
  • Which of their moonshots has been a hit so far? It's a load of tosh!
  • Google was founded on a concept of providing searches and nothing else for free. At the time, the much larger competitors found this to be of little sense since there's no revenue in searches.
  • Google Maps or Android.... or If I could go out on a limb and even say the chromecast or chromebook, maybe? Sure they have a million competitors that provide the same thing. But the only reason they copied the chromecast or chromebook, even if it took them more than a year to copy it, is because it was a good idea.
  • It's a real shame, if not a surprise, that project Ara failed... Hopefully the next big thing will be just as cool and manage to stick!
  • This would have been so much better in the Irony department if Ara Wagoner had been the author :P
  • We can't even get mobile phone makers to use removable batteries. What chance have we got of them giving us removable processors, cameras etc.?
  • Bang on. Fuzzy, read this.
  • The cynic in me tells me this is the reason why it never came into fruition
  • The biggest downfall of this was the bundling of the screen/SoC/*something else I've forgotten...* to the frame. If you wanted to upgrade the processor, time for a new frame. Screen busted? Buy a new frame, with a new SoC. As soon as I heard that, I was no longer interested in the project. I recall I wasn't the only one who was turned away by this decision.
  • Not surprised that something named "Ara" failed.
  • This was never a good idea, and the only people who ever got excited about it were PC builders / modders who thought their hobby would translate over to a hand-held device.
  • This is a great idea. But as it will democratize the market, actual actors fear new competence. CEOs want to decide what mix they offer and be able to almost copy the successful ones but with lower price cutting some corners. They do not want that consumers can test combinations and read about bundles for their needs (including price) and order them, even they found the way to make almost impossible to arm a laptop by parts (that was possible not many time ago) and even Asus and Gigabyte do not sell laptop motherboards to the public, and they will be able to do the same with the ara parts and do not sell directly to the public they still fear CUSTOMER FREEDOM in a compatible second hand parts market. And that reading SoC + screen where together in order to do not let so much CUSTOMER FREEDOM.
  • It was a nice engineering exercise: Can you build a modular smartphone? Seems the answer is a resounding "Yes!"
    Unfortunately, whoever needed to ask the obvious follow-up question did not ask the obvious follow-up question: Does it make sense to sell a modular smartphone?
    And the answer to that should have been easy: For all the same reasons that nobody is selling modular laptops or modular tablets, no.
    Then again, this is Google and Project Ara is just another Google Barge albeit in a drastically different guise.