The First Google Project Ara Smartphone Conference Covers Timeline, 3-D Printing

At the first Google Project Ara smartphone conference, project participants revealed that the initial iteration of the new customizable phone line will be “gray” 3D printable, and released in January 2015.

Paul Eremenko, the leader of the Ara project, uses “gray” here to mean “plain”: CNET quotes Eremenko as explaining that “it’s called the Gray Phone because it’s meant to be drab gray to get people to customize it.” Eremenko’s vision stretches beyond adding custom case covers and changing wallpapers: Project Ara smartphones will allow the user to swap actual hardware components in and out of the phone as easily as building a Lego set. It’s a whole new approach to smartphones, so the Gray Phone needs to be bland in order to motivate people to play around with the new technology.

Snap-In Upgrades

The main point of Project Ara is to put more control and money into the owner’s pocket. Starting at just $50 for a chassis with basic phone functions that holds the interchangeable hardware in place, users will be able to buy parts to swap in and out of the Gray Phone to get additional capabilities—and Google is designing new 3-D printing machinery for the production process.

3D Systems is working with Google on the production process for the Gray Phone, which enters unknown territory for smartphones. A new large-scale 3-D printer is being designed and built to handle—as well as make possible—both the production process and scope of Project Ara, which includes printing out individual hardware components. These components will be sold on the shelves right next to the phone itself so shoppers can pick and choose what they want their phone to be able to do.

However, PCWorld reports that “module prices will be left to companies that produce them with the expectation that competition will drive down prices.” With Project Ara phones being marketed as money savers, it seems that a lot hinges on whether this prediction proves true or not.

The Timeline

With the first conference for the Google Project Ara smartphone line came a schedule for both when the phone will be released and how Google is preparing for that day; from the looks of it, this year is going to be a busy one for the search giant’s smartphone division.

According to CNET, conferences that will touch on the development process of the technology will be held in July and September. Power bus support should be finished in May, while September will mark the arrival of most system-level functions. The two biggest developments, which are the alpha build of the 3D printer and the integration of modular component control support for Android, will be completed in August and December, respectively. While the phone will run Android, the OS currently doesn’t support dynamic hardware. With less than a year until the release of the first Google Project Ara smartphone, this might seem like a close call, but as Eremenko said at the conference, “The good news is that we’re Google.”

Would you prefer to be able to design your own smartphone rather than continue buying the standardized phones you have now?

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons