The four-year-old modular smartphone project that began with Motorola’s skunkworks has ended under Google’s control, according to sources to the Reuters news agency. Google may elect to license the technology to manufacturers, but that’s only a possibility at this point.
The word inside Mountain View? Consolidation. It has been apparent that Google has been exerting more control over areas it has had demonstrated success or publicity on — CEO Sundar Pichai made this regime clear when talking about the Pixel (neé Nexus) smartphones — and would like to “unify [the company’s] various hardware efforts”. That means dropping projects as it has reportedly done, for example, with a standalone mixed reality headset.
This project had to do with allowing consumers to purchase a custom assortment of parts for a smartphone of their own, then replace certain parts as desired — theoretically driving average prices down and cutting down on electronic waste. Motorola began work on Project Ara back in 2012 under the ownership of Google. When the search giant sold Motorola to Lenovo in 2014, it kept Motorola’s Advanced Technologies Group (and Project Ara) for its own development.
There was promising news about Ara during Google’s I/O conference when the Project Ara team said it would be shipping developer kits this fall and that a commercial launch was in the horizon for next year. But the large-scale project was not a major effort mentioned in the keynote speech — Internet of Things hub Google Home, for example, got center stage attention.
As of now, Google’s current Advanced Technology & Projects Group is overlooking Ara. The ATAP group has cryptically indicated steps of progression and regression during the two years it has controlled the project. Those include dashed plans for a soft launch of the phone mainframe and modules in Puerto Rico, spin control on a reported component testing failure and runs of consecutive tweets of consciousness about diverted action.
Update: Google has confirmed to PCWorld that reports of Project Ara’s demise are “true and accurate,” but did not give an official comment.