Joshua talked about Project Ara (from Motorola at the time) back in October as a campaign that focused on attracting OEM interest into a modular smartphone design.  The results of that campaign take the next step forward as Google announces the first set of developer conferences for a modular device.

Headed under the Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) division, the platform is meant to be a single hub onto which the user can place their own hardware.  This means CPUs, cameras, sensors, screens, baseband, modems, connectivity, storage – the whole gamut.  The issue with such a device compounds the effects of going from a managed ecosystem (Apple and several hardware combinations) to a free ecosystem (Android and every hardware combination).  Project Ara takes this complexity one stage further, and there has to be a fundamental software base to solve this.  Hence ATAP is going to be doing three developers’ conferences in 2014, starting on April 15-16 at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California.

Aside from those attending in person, the event will be live webcast with question and answer sessions built into the programme.  Due to the early stage of Project Ara, the initial conference is all about the modular system itself, building a device and getting it to work.  Coinciding with the first conference, an alpha version of the Module Developers’ Kit should be available.

The other two conferences for 2014 are yet to be announced.  Further info on the conference is found at the website, to be updated over the next few weeks with more details.

To quote the website:

We plan a series of three Ara Developers’ Conferences throughout 2014. The first of these, scheduled for April 15-16, will focus on the alpha release of the Ara Module Developers’ Kit (MDK). The MDK is a free and open platform specification and reference implementation that contains everything you need to develop an Ara module. We expect that the MDK will be released online in early April.

The Developers’ Conference will consist of a detailed walk-through of existing and planned features of the Ara platform, a briefing and community feedback sessions on the alpha MDK, and an announcement of a series of prize challenges for module developers. The complete Developers’ Conference agenda will be out in the next few weeks.

This first version of the MDK relies on a prototype implementation of the Ara on-device network using the MIPI UniPro protocol implemented on FPGA and running over an LVDS physical layer. Subsequent versions will soon be built around a much more efficient and higher performance ASIC implementation of UniPro, running over a capacitive M-PHY physical layer.

The Developers’ Conference, as the name suggests, is a forum targeted at developers so priority for on-site attendance will reflect this. For others--non-developers and Ara enthusiasts--we welcome you to join us via the live webstream. That said, we invite developers of all shapes and sizes: from major OEMs to innovative component suppliers to startups and new entrants into the mobile space.

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  • ruthan - Wednesday, February 26, 2014 - link

    I could be finaly "PC" (modular) phone, not only x86 phone (PC SW compatible in future though universal OS - Windows, Android, Linux). And first realy upgradable phone.. I would like to see this at successfull project, but i dont believe it too much.
    Because there are big constraints:
    - good case
    - very easy pc like montage, moduls will be very small, will be need some magnifying glass? // Because it is show stopper.
    - enought HW manufactors support
    - would be display upgradable?
  • SleepyFE - Wednesday, February 26, 2014 - link

    Flashing is a problem (or rather would be a problem). To get the driver for any new module you would have to make the image yourself and then flash it. Too much for non tech savy. To get a universal os you would fist need BIOS and then boot an installer from USB, then look for drivers and so on. The phone would have to become a full PC with a cellular module. Even if (when) that happenes, the non modular phones would last longer on a single charge (unless you added a huuuuuuuuuuge battery module) and you can fit a better processor when you know how well it will be cooled (another module might cover the CPU module so it could overheat).

    The modules would probably be plugged on to the back of the display since it's the biggest piece and the battery on the other side. So if you would have to take everything of and put it on to another screen.
  • dark4181 - Wednesday, February 26, 2014 - link

    Unless Google develops an iTunes analog that will auto-detect your hardware and grab the appropriate drivers for you, and then rolls and flashes the ROM. The rub here is going to be hardware/software integration and efficiency, and the fact that mobile hardware is only just getting to where PC hardware was when the DIY PC movement really started to gain steam. I'd say we have another 1-2 years before we're fully there, and maybe another 5-7 years before we have the kind of power in a mobile SoC that we have in today's PC systems. At that point, I think a lot of traditional PC component vendors will begin developing their own modulare mobile hardware components and drivers. So I figure 10 years before modular phones become "mainstream"; if indeed they ever do.
  • dark4181 - Wednesday, February 26, 2014 - link

    Oh, and even if Google doesn't develop an iTunes analogue, I'm sure somebody will at some point.
  • Morawka - Thursday, February 27, 2014 - link

    google does not need a itunes analog, just let us do it with the PC. iTunes is needed because apple is closed doors (walled garden) and they dont want you messing with stuff.

    Microsoft and Linux OS's simply need a API or plug for installing hardware and software drivers. Everything else can be done via USB
  • darkcrayon - Wednesday, February 26, 2014 - link

    Keep in mind we never even got adoption of "mass market" modular laptops, much less modular devices as small as smartphones. This might be interesting research, but I can't see it gaining adoption beyond the nerds. If we're waiting 5-7 years before this is viable, imagine how much more advanced the totally integrated designs could get within the same time period.
  • Mr. Eco - Thursday, February 27, 2014 - link

  • nerd1 - Thursday, February 27, 2014 - link

    Modular desktop make sense because there are powerful aftermarket components available, and you can put them together to make a much more powerful machine (at some cost, of course)

    On the other hand, there simply does not exist any better component option at all - all the latest and best are already in the flagship smartphones. Then why bother?
  • Friendly0Fire - Thursday, February 27, 2014 - link

    Also keep in mind that any connector lengthens the path to the rest of the phone, which hinders performance, raises weight and costs, etc.

    I like the idea, but I'm not sure how feasible it is in practice outside of peripherals (camera, gps, even screen could be swapped, but the SoC is likely to be monolithic).
  • MrSpadge - Saturday, March 1, 2014 - link

    It could be great for people who do not want the latest and greatest. You could tune your device for whatever is worth the most to you: camera, long battery life, cost etc.
    I wouln't bet on this ever taking off, but it surely appeals to some.

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