Google has pulled the plug on a scheduled market test for Project Ara, its highly-anticipated modular smartphone compromising block components that users can affix and detach from a basic frame.
The pilot program, initially slated to kick off later this year in Puerto Rico, has been postponed until 2016 and moved to an as-yet-undisclosed location, Project Ara announced in a series of tweets hashtagged “#yeswearelate.” The company said it is looking at different locations in the U.S. to debut the phones, and chalked up delays to “Lots of iterations…more than we thought.”
In January, Project Ara lead Paul Eremenko said that the team had selected Puerto Rico for an initial market test because the island is well-connected, has designated free trade zones, and comprises a large mobile-first market where entry-level phones account for a majority of sales. The plan was for the phones to be sold in food trucks equipped with 3D printers to customize devices at point-of-sale.
However, while Google cited difficulties related to the phone’s interchangeable components, the company made no mention of the fact that Puerto Rico is currently in the throes of a severe debt crisis -- presumably a menacing climate for any market tests. The Project Ara team did say that the devices would come back to Puerto Rico eventually.
Project Ara is a part of Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) division -- which will remain under Google following its recent restructuring into the Alphabet holding company. Typically, ATAP is tasked with realizing new products within a strict two-year time-limit, though Project Ara has already been given an extension.
The appeal of a modular smartphones lies in the fact that consumers can customize and replace various components piece by piece, including keyboards, cameras, batteries and speakers. And then, like an app store for hardware, developers would be able to sell their own invented modules on the Google Play Store and beyond.