Why was Google Project Ara Cancelled? [Case Study]

Why was Google Project Ara Cancelled? [Case Study]

Did you just break your cellphone's camera? How about you just swap it out for a new one by yourself? That's not possible, right? Well, what if I say there was a time when the future of mobile phones was on this path? Yes, that's true! On September 10, 2013,  Dave Hakkens, a Design Academy Eindhoven graduate, uploaded his a video on YouTube. Called 'Phonebloks', the video revolved around the idea of replacing old and broken phone parts. This was Project Ara.

What was Project Ara all about?
Why did Project Ara Seem like a Great Plan?
What Happened to Project Ara?
Reasons Why Project Ara Failed

What was Project Ara all about?

Headed initially by the Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) team within Motorola Mobility LLC while it was a subsidiary of Google, Project Ara focused on creating a modular smartphone device that allowed users to swap out outdated and damaged hardware components of a cellphone with new ones.

The original plan, consisted of different hardware modules that could be combined with the metal endoskeleton to create a usable smartphone. The process started by finalizing the endoskeleton and then adding the various parts to it. The different parts included battery, processor, display screens, cameras, storage components, speakers and everything else.

Why did Project Ara Seem like a Great Plan?

Project Ara was developed to revolutionize the functioning of the cellphone industry. It eradicated the need to stand in line for a new cellphone when customers could effortless upgrade the ones they were using. Apart from this, it also had a number of other perks. Let's take a look at some of them:

  1. It would have resulted in a substantial reduction in electronic waste.
  2. It was as simple as switching the sim in a GSM phone to another phone.
  3. All modules of Project Ara worked seamlessly across all geographical locations as it was based on the frame of the phone.
  4. It would allow users to experiment with specialized components like laser pointers, night vision sensors, Pico projectors, gaming controllers, medical devices and a lot more.
  5. It was supposed to have a specialized Wi-Fi module  that would ensure a stronger signal no matter which ISP was being used.
  6. It was intended to be sold at very nominal prices as compared to present cellphones. For example, a starter kit, with the endoskeleton, CPU, battery, display and Wi-Fi was quoted to be sold at just $50.
  7. Users would also be able to choose between two frame size variants - the mini and the medium size frame. There were also talks of a large sized frame somewhere down the line.

However, even after these many perks, Project Ara is nowhere in the market for the last 7 years. So, what happened to it? Did it succeed or fail? What really happened to this revolutionary plan? Let's find out.

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What Happened to Project Ara?

Motorola Mobility LLC announced on 29th October, 2013 that they were working in collaboration with Phonebloks to develop a prototype of the project. The first prototype, called Spiral 1, was introduced in June of 2014. However, it seemed very different than the original Phonebloks plan with a lot of issues.

A second prototype, Spiral 2, having better customizations and design modules, was released in the year 2015. The plan was to release the module in Puerto Rico, since the U.S. territory had a large mobile phone market, but, in August of 2015, Google announced that the release was delayed indefinitely and would be made available in few other cities of the U.S. in 2016.

When 2016 came, the team unveiled a 'developer's edition', that was somewhat different from Spiral 2. The design came with antenna, display, integrated circuit system-on-chip, and sensor attached to the endoskeleton, instead of allowing users to connect parts such as battery, CPU or camera. However, they could still change features like microphones, speakers, batteries and cameras.

By this time Project Ara had come a long way since starting in 2014 with people working in Google using these phones as their main device. But, on September 2nd, 2016, the company announced that they were shelving this project to focus on on others. No other details were divulged and there have been no talks of a relaunch as well.

So, what could possibly have gone wrong? Although it seemed like a brilliant leap towards a better future of smartphones, a lot of things didn't quite work out in favor of the project.

Google Project Ara Showcase
Google Project Ara Showcase

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Reasons Why Project Ara Failed

Lack of Proper Support

As is the case with most out-of-the-box ideas that have the potential to change the industry, the project faced a lot of opposition. Most big mobile companies did not support the idea and did everything in their power to restrict Project Ara from being released.

Dearth of Relevant Technology

Although the idea of the project was revolutionary, it seems that it was too ahead of its time. The technology was not advanced enough, at that time, to facilitate the development of this magnanimous and ambitious plan.

Not Easy to Use

Although tech geeks love the idea of swapping out unusable parts of their phone with new ones, normal customers usually buy mobile phones that allows them to stay connected through calls, text messages and use social media. They wouldn't want to spend time thinking about which processor, RAM or storage is needed for them to perform these tasks.

The Need of Constant Upgrading

As time moved ahead most hardware components like, graphic cards, CPU, RAM and storage cards, become more advanced. Hence, there is a constant need to keep upgrading the software to allow them to support all the new and fast hardware technologies. Thus, all modules of the phone would need to be upgraded eventually, making the phone useless for long-term use.


When did project Ara start?

The concept of Project Ara began in 2012 and work started on April 1, 2013. Motorola publicly announced Project Ara on October 29, 2013.

Why was Project Ara Cancelled?

One of the reasons Project Ara was cancelled could be it was too early for the introduction of such modular phones in the mass market.

Why did modular phones fail?

Modular phones failed because of Lack of demand in the smartphone market.


This does not mean the Project Ara is over. The immense potential of the project is too good to be wasted, so, you never know, there could be a more refined version for our perusal in the future.

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