​Google to begin offering first Ara phones in Puerto Rico this year

Google's build-it-yourself smartphone concept is moving closer to reality with a third prototype due this spring, ahead of a market test in Puerto Rico.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

The team behind Google's Ara phone, a modular handset with click-on components, plans to run its first market test of the concept device in Puerto Rico later this year.

If Ara becomes a commercial reality, it might upend today's specs-focused smartphone market. Ara consists of a base unit to which consumers can add modules, to build their own handset.

The company's Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) group, which Google held onto after it sold Motorola to Lenovo, showed off the latest iteration of the prototype - dubbed the Spiral 2 - at its second developer conference in Mountain View, California, on Wednesday.

The design process for the Spiral 2 began in July. It was delivered as a final product in late December by Taiwan-based contract manufacturer Quanta.

However, before Ara's Puerto Rico launch, ATAP will produce the Spiral 3, which it expects will be ready by spring this year, according to Paul Eremenko, ATAP's head of Project Ara.

Given the modular design, the Spiral 2 is described as having an "on-device network" with a Toshiba UniPro switch and bridge ASICs (application specific integrated-circuits) at its centre.

Marvel and Nvidia have created two separate reference designs for the Spiral 2 based on their PXA1928 and Tegra K1 processors. These two clip on to the baseboard. Eremenko has said that the Spiral 3 will contain a new UniPro switch and ASICs that will allow contactless data transfer.

While that will form the core of what's expected to be a $50 base unit, consumers will then be able to purchase additional modules for the camera, screens, sensors, wireless chips, radios, battery, speakers, and other components that may not have been thought of for a smartphone today. Those parts will slide in place, but as Eremenko has previously highlighted, the vision is for them to lock together via electromagnetic couplings.

ZDNet's sister site CNET reported yesterday that Google expects its market pilot to begin in Puerto Rico at some stage later this year, which is a little later than the ATAP team had initially hoped for.

The Verge reported yesterday that for the Spiral 3, Google is targeting feature parity with today's smartphones including 4G LTE connectivity, a battery that lasts a whole day, an improved camera, and up to 30 different modules.

Google will also offer an Ara Manager app to help users to troubleshoot and to determine what components to use on the device.

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