The first phone from Google’s Project Ara modular smartphone project is expected to go on sale in January 2015 for around $50.
The timeframe was revealed by Ara leader Paul Eremenko at the first Ara developer’s conference this week.
“It’s called the Gray Phone because it’s meant to be drab gray to get people to customise it,” he said.
The idea behind Project Ara is not new: to create a smartphone that can be modified by the addition or substitution of modules – Motorola previously suggested that this could be “anything, from a new application processor to a new display or keyboard, an extra battery, a pulse oximeter – or something not yet thought of”.
The $50 phone will essentially consist of a frame, screen and Wi-Fi radio. Google is opening up Project Ara hardware creation to developers, save for a few key components. It will therefore be up to developers to determine what features are built into their modules. Eremenko said he expects the ‘skeleton’ of the device to last five to six years.
CNET reported that Ara phones will support Android, but this poses an interesting dilemma as the OS does not yet provide the drivers necessary for it to control modular components. Eremenko is quoted by the publication as stating that Android drivers will be due in December.
The project is being led by Motorola’s Advanced Technology and Products (ATAP) group. This unit is being kept by Google when the sale of the bulk of Motorola Mobility to Lenovo goes ahead.
Several earlier modular smartphone efforts failed to gain traction in the market, for example with the Qualcomm-backed Modu closing its doors in 2011. This was followed by Google acquiring intellectual property from Modu.