Google’s much-anticipated modular smartphone will make its way to consumers this year. A pilot project—which will use food truck-style vans to get the devices into users hands so they can try before they buy—is set to debut in Puerto Rico before the end of 2015.
The announcement about the market pilot was made at the Project Ara developers conference in Mountain View, California. Regina Dugan, the Googler in charge of the ambitious attempt to design and market a fully modular, part-swappable Android phone, made the announcement. Claro and Open Mobile, two cell networks on the U.S.-governed island territory, are partners in the pilot. Google also said it would have over 20 modules available for people to use when customizing their phones by the time the pilot launches.
The video shown at the launch announcement is embedded above. It also shows how Ara’s modules will work.
This pilot will give developers, manufacturers and the Ara team a better understanding of the commercial realities and consumer demands surrounding modular phones. It will also provide answers to vital questions before Ara hits larger markets. For example: Which common problems will users encounter? How can customer support teams help? Which modules or types of modules will go over well and which will fall flat? How will consumers use the modules to customize the mobile experience?
Though endeavors like Project Ara are often fraught with such uncertainties, if there’s one absolute truth embedded in the frame of this modular phone, it’s that the commercial success of Project Ara could dramatically alter the relationship users have with their mobile devices. Namely, the way they carry them and customize them, their decisions about when to upgrade, and how they go about replacing broken or unsatisfactory components.
It could be more than just a chance to explore new device designs. It could point to a major transformation in mobile computing where it’s no longer just the software of the device—the apps that run on the phone—that’s open to customization by the user, but the entire functionality and build of the phone itself.
A similar event for Asian developers will be held next week, January 21, in Singapore.