Google’s Ara Smartphone is the Latest Alphabet Casualty

Alphabet Inc. will not release the Ara modular smartphone, reports Reuters. The company was working on a smartphone with interchangeable parts before Google became a division of Alphabet Inc. as part of a corporate restructuring scheme. The move has seen a number of ambitious Google X projects scrapped, and Project Ara of the search engine giant’s Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) is the latest to get the boot.

The parent company apparently wants to take a different direction when it comes to such hardware. The innovative smartphone will not directly be released by Alphabet itself, but partners can seek licensing agreements for its release. According to PC World, Google has confirmed the report but refrained from making any comments. This might indicate that such a licensing agreement might very much be in the works, and Project Ara might yet make it to the market eventually.

The lego blocks inspired smartphone model came with Google’s acquisition of Motorola Mobility. The software was subsequently peddled off to Lenovo Group Ltd. The open and free hardware platform was expected to usher in a niche market of easily modifiable smartphones, courtesy of Google’s hardware and software partners. This would have provided a commendable solution to the problem of replacing phone parts, users might be able to buy replacements for any damaged part at a reasonable cost. They could effectively build a smartphone of their choice, even by putting in two batteries instead of one to increase its standby time.

The possibilities were endless, but smartphone industry players such as Apple Inc. and Samsung Electronics keep innovating in this domain every year. The new iPhone 7 is set to come out later this month, while Samsung even has successful tablet devices such as the Note series to keep users busy. In short, most of the customers’ needs are already met by the smartphone market at both the high-end and low-end range.

Ara was expected to fill small niches for exceptional cases. For example, a photography enthusiast could effectively keep a simple calling-and-texting phone with two batteries and a very high-end camera lens, without paying for other (unwanted) perks such as fingerprint sensors and built-in barometers. However, catering to such a niche would require the manufacturer to accept that the smartphone will not reach the sales levels attained by the very best smartphones.

Alphabet Inc. has recently embarked on a mission to target profitability over innovation, assessing the long-term viability of projects. This saw the implementation of cost-cutting measures for Google Fiber, the company’s ultra-high-speed broadband cable service that now focuses on wireless Internet provision instead. Keeping this in mind, the writing was on the wall for Project Ara’s apparent discontinuation.

That said, Project Ara itself has not taken off as fast as Alphabet would have liked; most companies would give up on the concept of a smartphone that has not borne fruition after years of research, especially when the product is not marketable to the masses. A phone with literally so many variables would have been hard to keep track of, and Google was perhaps aware of the somewhat convoluted brand image it would present to its customers with the phone.

The smartphone’s plus point is that it would have been environment-friendly, and would have reduced electronic waste to some extent. It might have attracted some customers just for the novelty factor, as was the case with Samsung’s Galaxy S6 Edge smartphone. However, despite indicating at Google I/O 2016 that Project Ara was making progress, Google has decided that the technology is not worth it.

It will be interesting to see if modular phones still make their way in the market. It can be argued that, with Google already laying claim to the Nexus line, a second (and notably different) smartphone line would not have been such a bad idea. It now looks like any modular smartphones of the future will not be directly associated with Google.