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Google Businesses Cellphones Software Hardware

Google Cancels Project Ara Modular Smartphone Plans, Says Report (theverge.com) 74

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Google has "suspended" work on Project Ara, the initiative to build a phone with interchangeable modules for various components like cameras and batteries, according to Reuters and Recode. The company reportedly may license the technology to other partners, but will not release a phone itself. The decision is said to be part of an effort to unify Google's hardware development under former Motorola president Rick Osterloh. Although Project Ara has always seemed a dubious commercial prospect, the news is surprising if only because Google made a renewed effort to push the modular concept at its I/O conference earlier this year, promising a developer version for fall and a consumer release for 2017. Google's Project Ara was originally spearheaded by Motorola to reinvent the smartphone in a form made up of hot-swappable modules that consumers can configure as they choose, then upgrade later as new technologies emerge. RIP Project Ara.
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Google Cancels Project Ara Modular Smartphone Plans, Says Report

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  • by creimer ( 824291 ) on Friday September 02, 2016 @10:28AM (#52814813) Homepage
    After years of spending money like drunken sailors, the bean counters have commandeered the Google Lollipop and unprofitable projects are walking the plank..
    • Oh don't worry, they'll keep on spending money like drunken sailors. All large companies do. I mean those project cancelling executives need a good incentivisation to stop them from stealing the furniture.

    • by jrumney ( 197329 )
      Between Google cancelling both Project Ara and the Nexus brand, and Samsung targeting their marketing for their latest phones at ISIS, we may be witnessing the end of the mobile bubble here.
  • Management is going awry at google, creating several projects than canning them all, getting products that people used, liked or even loved with a passion like Reader and Talk and just getting rid of it. Make moves to unify everything just to separate a few months after, make great hardware and just neglect it or change in a direction that consumers don't want (no vanilla Nexus, really google, really??)
    Something is rotten at google, I think there is a lot of back stabbing and rug pulling that we are not s
    • Management is going awry at google, creating several projects than canning them all, getting products that people used, liked or even loved with a passion like Reader and Talk and just getting rid of it.

      It's all about return on investment. Never forget that almost all of Alphabet's (aka Google's) revenue comes from advertising. Anything that doesn't ultimately generate more advertising profits is very likely to get the ax at some point. Search, Gmail, Youtube, etc are quite safe. I'm not remotely surprised that some of those other projects were killed off and/or neglected. Interesting ideas but not necessarily good businesses within Google. Google isn't a charity so it should shock no one when they g

      • From an ROI pov, it was foolish to cut this project. Right now, south Korean companies are working on tizen, while Chinese, as well as Russian, gov are working on on clones. Then you have Europe pushing for something else as well. In each case, those regions have control of the hardware, which means that Google can not control this. However, if Google does ara, it creates an incredible competition at daughterboard level, rather than at phone. In addition, it allows for new players to jump in easily and hav
      • by sootman ( 158191 )

        > Anything that doesn't ultimately generate more advertising
        > profits is very likely to get the ax at some point.

        Which makes it all the more baffling why they cancelled Reader. They had millions of people voluntarily telling Google what their favorite sites were and they couldn't find a good use for that information?

    • Don't compare Ara with projects that were once successful. This project was dead on arrival. It was a crap idea which would appeal to very few people and it's great they canned it before they went too far.

      As for something being rotten, Reader is the only one that's worthy of being sad about. Talk was just odd for a company like Google, the whole vanilla Nexus thing is just the whining of Slashdot (what is vanilla if not the version that Google releases?).

      It makes no sense to touch either gmail or search. It

    • by fnj ( 64210 )

      Something is rotten at google

      EVERYTHING is rotten at Google. They've got a tin ear, a blind eye, and a dead brain.

  • Google canceling a project? Say it aint so.

    • Given the company has hundreds of projects running many of which have well and truly withstood the test of time, why all the hate against Google? What have you done with your life recently?

      • Given the company has hundreds of projects running many of which have well and truly withstood the test of time, why all the hate against Google? What have you done with your life recently?

        Google has earned a reputation for pulling the plug on services that people used and relied on with no recourse.. on commercial side not just freebies.

        When you repeatedly behave this way there is a cost you incur in people not wanting to invest in your solutions due to demonstrated elevated probability they will wake up tomorrow and find themselves out of luck.

        It is only a natural and completely understandable reaction. Google is free to make whatever calculations it wants but there are consequences.

        • Google also have a reputation of providing an incredibly diverse and far reaching set of projects and services. From the beginning they acted very much like a startup factory. This is just a natural extension of that.

    • You stopped working on your pet project at home and moved on? Say it ain't so.

  • This was stupid. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by thegarbz ( 1787294 ) on Friday September 02, 2016 @10:51AM (#52814957)

    The entire project has always been stupid. People aren't interested in upgrading hardware of their phone around a standard frame. People are interested in upgrading the shiny factor, the new screen with the curved edge, the shiny yellow golden sides, the curved displays.

    This project was a stillbirth from the moment of conception.

    • I see "modular smartphones" in the same light as "modular laptop PCs" of 15-20 years ago. It looks cool on paper, until you think about the implications of actually carrying one of these things. It will always end up in a compromised design, bulkier and less well integrated, and more expensive than a bespoke integrated counterpart. Now, the bespoke phone can't upgrade to a 24Gigapixel camera, or a laser bar code scanner, or whatever foolishness without a complete re-design, but if you're making product f

      • Now, the bespoke phone can't upgrade to a 24Gigapixel camera, or a laser bar code scanner, or whatever foolishness without a complete re-design

        Not true. [digitaltrends.com]

    • by swb ( 14022 )

      I'm not sure that even Apple can sustain smartphone upgrades as a trendy lifestyle item. As the market matures, people are keeping their smartphones longer, there are fewer blockbuster features or performance leaps that justify entirely new phones.

      My sense is what kind of limits the smartphone ecosystem is exactly the closed nature of the devices and their inflexibility. The average consumer may not be interested in a modular phone, but that may not be the path of growth for smartphone vendors. They may

      • What few people realize is that Apple has not based profits around yearly upgrades, but is perfectly fine with a two or three year upgrade cycle... they build the hardware to last at least that long, if not longer... My wife usually keeps her iPhone for about three years before upgrading, and is still using an iPad 2 from 2011 which works great.

        Most other phone makers have hardware which is not nearly as durable and doesn't get updates through a 2-3 year cycle, so it has to be replaced a lot sooner.

        The modu

      • there are fewer blockbuster features or performance leaps that justify entirely new phones.

        features? What are you talking about, most people just want the crack removed from their screen and figure if they're going to spend $200 to do it they may as well buy a new phone.

    • by Balial ( 39889 )

      Not only that, but even if customers did want it, computer electronics says it can't work. Power supplies and busses are boring things, but they make advancements every generation. You upgrade your camera to more megapixels and you have to switch out your power supply and bus to something not compatible with the old modules. Or you stagnate these things and you miss out on future throughput and efficiency gains. Now you're lowering frame rates and burning a bunch of power just for compatibilities sake. Inte

      • Power supplies and busses are boring things, but they make advancements every generation.

        Sorry but I could not disagree more. On an SoC level the busses we use to talk to peripherals are borderline unchanged for the past 20 years. High bandwidth components are integrated and inter-module communication is pretty standardised. The same with powersupplies. There's been nothing new in powersupply advancements in the past 10 years. Slight improvement in battery capacity, but frankly we had +90% efficient battery charging and discharging circuits in textbooks from the 90s.

        These aren't computers, and

    • Some factors why this was doomed:

      1. Hard to see how a modular phone could be water-resistant, which is an important if boring feature, given that the most common place people use smartphones, so I read, is in the washroom.

      2. The chance that a user can put together a device that works well as a coherent whole out of a collection of parts is pretty low. There are many design trade-offs to be considered in the creation of each new smartphone model.

      Maybe the concept can survive in reduced form, like a single en

    • The entire project has always been stupid. People aren't interested in upgrading hardware of their phone around a standard frame. People are interested in upgrading the shiny factor, the new screen with the curved edge, the shiny yellow golden sides, the curved displays.

      Nice... everyone thinks everyone else is shallow stupid and vain.

      • Nice... everyone thinks everyone else is shallow stupid and vain.

        You make the mistake of translating people to equal everyone else. That's not the case. People here is a generic term for the vast majority of the population who use a product.

        No doubt there were a few people who were interested in this project. And that's about it. You can't sustain a device like this on a few people.

        • Nice... everyone thinks everyone else is shallow stupid and vain.

          You make the mistake of translating people to equal everyone else. That's not the case. People here is a generic term for the vast majority of the population who use a product.

          Thanks for clarifying that people isn't everyone people is just almost everyone who uses cell phones.

          • You sound like I moved the goalpost or something. "People" is a noun that describes a collective in a general sense. It does not describe a person, and people should never be interpreted to mean "every person", ever. If that's the way you interpret it you're going to continue not understanding what people say for a long time to come. "we the people" did not mean everyone agreed with Jefferson.

    • Upgrades haven't really made sense in the PC space either for a long time. It's a nice idea to upgrade one single part but generally when you upgrade CPU you need DDR+1 RAM, your SSD is absurdly small and slow by modern standards and your GPU can be replaced for $100.

      I wouldn't want to upgrade my camera on my phone if it didn't come also with a faster processor so that the higher resolution sensor doesn't go 2x as slow.

      Considering System On a Chip effectively dropped the price of every component to nearly

      • It's a nice idea to upgrade one single part but generally when you upgrade CPU you need DDR+1 RAM, your SSD is absurdly small and slow by modern standards and your GPU can be replaced for $100.

        I actually disagree with this. I think we are actually finally in a position where incremental changes are slow enough and system level changes are far enough between that we finally CAN upgrade just parts.

        I mean in the 90s I lost count of the times I upgraded a computer only to throw out 3/4 of the devices inside, but we're now at the stage where things are big and beefy enough that a minor update on a part of the system is possible. In the past 5 years a game has forced me to upgrade only the GPU. A new c

  • Meanwhile the Fairphone [fairphone.com] is a modular android phone, with end user replaceable parts that exists today.

    • by lkcl ( 517947 ) <lkcl@lkcl.net> on Friday September 02, 2016 @11:40AM (#52815331) Homepage

      ah NO. please do some research BEFORE recommending fairphone to people. you'll notice that Fairphone has REMOVED (reneged on) their promise to provide a "Fair OS". their naivety (and the fact that they haven't listened to extremely experienced software libre developers) is well-documented - a good example is here: http://blogs.fsfe.org/pboddie/... [fsfe.org]

      the Fairphone is only "modular" if you are mechanically-minded. i know of people who are competent engineers who, in attempting to repair a laptop, have managed accidentally to destroy FPC12 connectors because they weren't anticipating quite how tiny and fragile they would be.

      "Modularity" also doesn't really solve the problem of chipsets being proprietary *and* insecure - google "900 million qualcomm android security vulnerability". you have to actually *design* the phone in *advance* to take into account these sorts of things. Neither google nor Fairphone have done that.

    • At $550 for something that has mostly the specs of a 3 year old Nexus 5, but is still stuck on Android 5, I'd pass.

  • I'm really disappointed with this decision. So much potential wasted.

    But, I think we all saw this coming a mile away. It didn't come across as 'sexy' enough.

    Too bad...

    *smh*

  • https://davehakkens.nl/news/re... [davehakkens.nl]

    dave hakkens is the person who really inspired the modular smartphone movement and brought it to prominence (buglabs was the first to really implement the concept, almost a decade ago). however we don't really have an actual explanation of what went wrong with project ara. here's some hints (search in this document for "ara" obviously): http://rhombus-tech.net/whitep... [rhombus-tech.net]

    basically it's down to the fact that google has more money than they have creative sense. they therefore

  • I told ya this would never see the light of day. Toldja toldja toldja.

  • Seriously, I thought the Moto Z [wired.com] was the fruit of the Google Project, what with Moto Mobile being a Google property until recently. It's not? Oh, well, modular smartphones are here if the market wants them.

  • It's time we started diagnosing corporations with mental disorders. Google has clearly been suffering a serious case of ADHD. Can we get them on adderall pronto?

  • A product or service intentionally designed to be abandoned on a whim. Caveat don't bother.
  • I was surprised from the beginning Google would spend any time on modular phones. Love the idea but having a company like Google work on it went against my world view of what Google is.

    More generally given the increasing failure of the market to be driven by consumers rather than advertisers and stalkers the cesspool of evil overall industry is becoming would seem to preclude practical expectation of anything useful.

    Modular phones are a gateway to sanity. Operating systems and hardware would necessarily h

  • This was a idea and project that other than research benefits was doomed to failure.

    most people DON'T upgrade their computers

    even more people DON'T upgrade their laptops

    almost NO ONE would upgrade or even want to upgrade their phone.

    The "cost" of modularization exponentially increases with each step above. people don't want the extra cost on a computer or laptop, why a phone?

    Most laptops aren't even modular now. Why? no one buys the modules outside of some niche areas.

    On today's phones most people don't pri

    • nowadays, yeah. pretty much. Back in the day, however.... upgrading was par for the course.

      I think they were trying to bring it back via "ITS EASY!!11 JUST BUY THE MODULE, SET IT AND FORGET IT!!!"

    • You don't have to assume upgrades to have benefits from modular construction. CPU chips remained socketed long after CPU upgrades became exceedingly rare simply because CPU and motherboards had different product lifecycles, and some systems could be GPU-heavy with a cheap CPU, while others CPU-heavy, without needing separate MB designs. If you look at AV equipment, you can buy an integrated unit--no messing with cables but now that obsolete 30-pin ipod dock just sits there looking stupid--or a modular sys

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