Update: Project Ara has just tweeted that the strength of the magnetic forces holding together the Ara phone modules is not, in fact, a problem — apparently that was a joke. We’ve since heard that the strength of the magnetic fields produced by the magnets being used is approximately 30 Newton-meters, more than enough strength to hold a 30 gram electronic module in place. The comments about building a better attachment/detachment solution still seem to be true, however, with the tweet also saying that, “We have been configuring a new solution. It’s better too.” The team is also working on improved camera and battery modules.
Google’s Project Ara, the name of the modular smartphone system the company is building that would enable anyone to put together a phone on their own, has run into problems that have impacted its public test roll-out. The team behind it has been cheeky and somewhat coy in explaining why it has delayed a test launch of the unique system, but a concise message posted to Twitter today might at least partly explain the delay.
Electropermanent magnets, in laymans terms, release magnetic fields in bursts from electric currents that can preserve their magnetization, in this case to ensure the modules of a Project Ara smartphone stay in place. From the looks of the hashtag included in Project Ara’s tweet, however, it seems that the attraction that a charged electromagnet can create is just not strong enough to keep modules together when dropped from a height you might expect someone to be holding their phone from.
The team followed up that tweet by saying they are testing a “signature system” for attaching and detaching modules. There’s no more detail than that, so we’re not sure what to expect. An easy to use attachment/detachment system is, of course, an integral aspect to a project designed specifically for enabling anyone to put together their own phone.
We first heard of delays with Project Ara just last week when the team behind it tweeted that there would be a “market pilot re-route” which would see it pull out of Puerto Rico for now, where it had initially planned to run a pilot program to put its modular phones in the hands of consumers. Puerto Rico was an ideal test market for the modular smartphone due to it being both a developing market — Project Ara is expected to provide devices at all price levels — and a U.S. territory. Any communications device sold into a US territory must first be approved by the FCC — such would make it ready for a US launch as well, however. The team is now looking stateside for potential test locations for a 2016 pilot.
The modular design of Project Ara would let customers upgrade specific parts when they want, whether it be wanting a better camera, or replacing a dead battery, boosting RAM or swapping out the screen. Want NFC? Snap in a module for it. Want a high-end camera? Buy one and insert it. Want to save money? Just go with the basics. Broke your screen? Remove it and slide in a replacement. That’s the idea, at least.
It looks like we’ll have to just keep dreaming about Ara’s potential until sometime in 2016.