Google has been showing off its Project Ara modular smartphone in a lot more detail over the past few days, likely because it’s also hosting a developer conference for the device this week. Ara uses interchangeable modules to deliver a smartphone that can be whatever a user wants it to be, complete with first- and third-party components including sensors, cameras, radio antennas and more. Consumers will be able to order them as of January 2015, Google revealed at the dev con, using a web-based configuration tool that isn’t unlike Motorola’s Moto Maker, as 9to5Google reports.
Buyers will be able to not only choose which bits to include in their device (to NFC or not to NFC?) but also select from custom color schemes to make the gadget their own. From the early looks we’ve seen, Ara is as much about aesthetic personalization as it is about spec customization, and that’s bound to help it appeal to an audience beyond just the hardcore hardware hacker crowd. Not only will users get to pick custom colors, but also 3D printed textured surfaces for different feels, too.
Google will be getting developer units out well before January, but the project is sticking with its ambitious goal of what amounts to a consumer launch within a year’s time. Google’s Ara team has high hopes for this device; they believe it’ll be a smartphone that lasts you multiple years, much longer than current hardware, since it won’t be obsolete nearly as quickly. The biggest challenge might be changing Android to the point where it supports modular hardware, and can remain current on phones that have a lifetime of half a decade instead of just a couple of years.