Google has given up on its dreams of building its own modular smartphone.
The hardware maker has halted investment in Project Ara, as the effort was known. Ara, begun under advanced research head Regina Dugan, aimed to allow people to customize their own smartphone, upgrading pieces over time.
Why should a user have to throw away their whole phone when they could just upgrade the battery or camera?
But Google struggled to come out with a product that could perform up to expectations and come in at a reasonable cost. It shelved a market test in Puerto Rico that was scheduled for last year.
It went back to the drawing board, combining more of the core phone features into a single module, leaving expansion for things like an extra battery, speaker or camera.
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As recently as its I/O developer conference in May, Google was promising developers would have working hardware this year and that early adopters would be able to try Ara next year.
Hardware chief Rick Osterloh, however, decided that the effort was unlikely to succeed. He is choosing to focus on the company's many other hardware bets, including Chromebooks, Android devices and Google Home.
The Ara concept was always a contrarian bet. PCs used to be structured that way, with ports and slots to add memory or a faster chip or a bigger hard drive. Over time, computer makers decided that consumers would rather have cheaper and more portable devices, even if it meant less flexibility. Smartphones, meanwhile, have always been self-contained products that are typically completely replaced every couple of years.
Motorola, which Google once owned, offers Moto Z, its own notion of a modular smartphone. Although the main smartphone is a self-contained working device, it can be expanded with add-ons such as a projector, speaker or enhanced camera. Just this week it introduced a new member of the Moto Z line as well as a camera attachment that adds optical zoom and other features more common to a point-and-shoot camera.
While Google will stop directly investing in Project Ara, it remains open to licensing the technology or finding a hardware maker interested in taking over, according to a source.
The decision to halt investment was first reported earlier Thursday by Reuters.
—By Ina Fried, Recode.net.
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