Google's Halted Project Ara May Be Headed To Facebook Labs
About three years ago, Google presented an ambitious idea for a modular cell phone. The concept enabled swappable Lego-like parts to add extra batteries, speakers, or a camera (among many other options) on the fly. Dubbed Project Ara, the $100 device was set to disrupt the idea that the only available cell phone options on the market were expensive and static.
That was until the project was axed in September of this year, despite gearing up in May for a fall time developer release and a consumer release in 2017. The phone was quietly pushed off to the side without comment from Alphabet officials. Presumably, the Ara about-face was to keep attention on the Pixel debut or to solidify a line of distinguished and coherent Google products (i.e. Chromebook and Nexus.)
However, the politics of why Ara was abandoned is probably less important than the current rumors that Facebook is adopting the technology.
Facebook's ultra-secret Building 8 has hired the team that was working on Ara, according to CNet. The social media behemoth has been dabbling with drones, VR, and other hardware for some time now, but fresh reports indicate that whatever tech they are brewing up now "[is] mobile, and it may be modular."
For an otherwise stagnant market of cell phones that are competing to have the biggest battery, the best camera, and the thinnest build this is a breath of fresh air. However, Facebook has shown flashes that it may be biting off more than it can chew, exampled by how the Oculus was handled.
Sure, the nuances of how Facebook could totally drop the ball are a bit different, but so far Facebook hasn't earned my trust that they can execute on such an ambitious project. My primary concern is that price points for Ara modules will stray from the original spirit of the project, which was blueprinted as a buy only what you need. This, in turn, will lose the general public's interest and resurrect a bullet-proof concept only to bury it deeper.
And no Zuckerberg, we didn't forget about Facebook's first crack at a dedicated phone – the HTC First. To be fair, Facebook was still just dabbling with the idea of reinventing itself, but the phone floundered, selling less than 150,000 units and being slashed to just $0.99 only a month after it was released. The main problem was the Facebook styled Android design that "Put People First," ultimately drove people away.
What has convinced us that Facebook won't pull a stunt like that again?
Project Ara is the phone that I think everyone wants; they just don't know it yet. It certainly is the ultimate phone. Every complaint about batteries, cameras, stronger screens, and faster processors can be quelled with individual updates to any of the modules. This is a phone that could potentially last years if not decades. Ara is the Ship of Theseus to every other Icarus Wings on the market, and I hope that Facebook doesn't make it so unusable that it becomes dead on arrival.
My advice to Facebook: Don't force feed bloatware and don't mess with the pricing. In a vacuum, Ara is already a unique product that can pull attention from iPhone clones, so all it needs is solid partnerships to expand on modules, and a consumer friendly interface to keep people interested.