Sometime last week during Google I/O, which has now become one of the most eagerly awaited events of the year, Google’s Rafa Camargo uttered the following words,
“Okay Google, eject the camera.”
His words were followed by a soft pop, and the crowd in attendance went wild. Google may have just defined what the future of smartphone photography is.
Smartphones have replaced point & shoot cameras as the most favorite personal photography device. Each year, smartphones steadily but surely inches forward to becoming the most used camera. Sure, there are enthusiasts and professionals still wielding bulky DSLRs and the medium format behemoths, but smartphones are definitely more convenient. The best thing about them is that they are always with us.
But convenience aside, smartphone have some problems of their own and those who shoot constantly know about them. Smartphones have smaller sensors. They have poor low light performance. They don’t have manual shooting options. Above all you can’t change lenses with a smartphone. The demand for better, more powerful cameras seem to be driving smartphone sales these days. Better user interface and other features have taken a backseat for the moment. Every few months new phone hardware seems to up that ante.
When the entire world of smartphone photography seems to be revolving around designing better cameras, Google has quietly gone the other way and liberated the phone from the camera, paving the way for an alternative school of thought. That pop was the camera getting physically ejected off the smartphone. How about it?
Enter Google Ara
Named Ara, this smartphone concept from Google’s ATAP (Advanced Technologies and Products) division mimics that of a Lego toy. Meaning, you can swap the camera and opt for a better one. The magic does not end just with a swappable camera, though it is enough to blow away the minds of the consumer. You can swap away any part and place a substitute for that. Need a bit more decibels for the home party? Just swap some speaker modules. Even batteries, if that’s what you need often.
What does this hold for the world of smartphone?
Interchangeable lenses, more than anything else. Yippee! Those of you thinking about postponing buying the latest smartphone or researching what new is going to be available about the time of holidays, hold on your horses. This was just a prototype and the real thing may be months away from seeing the light of day. Google says that the first lot of the phone will not ship out before 2017.
The project has gone through several delays. Google had previously attempted a pilot launch, which was postponed. Then, key people behind the project – Paul Eremenko followed by Regina Dugan left the company. The design and the concepts were changed as well. From the initial promises to when Camargo uttered the magic words on stage, a lot of water has passed down the Colorado. But as they say, all’s well that ends well. The fact that the phone did eject the camera was a huge sight!
The phone comes with four swappable module slots to start with. Google will provide the endo-skeleton while module manufactures will provide modules based on various needs. Thus, instead of trying to manufacture the world’s best smartphone camera, module manufacturers can produce the best camera module for the Ara. Once more and more manufacturers come on board you are going to have a whole wide world of Ara modules that you could never ever have on a standard iPhone or for that matter any other smartphone. The sky is the limit for what you would want to do with the Ara.
Google Ara, once it ships out, will be a game-changer; not that it is not already. It will revolutionize the way people use their phones, not just make images with it. It will change the whole smartphone game. People will stop looking at specs, the way they do now, knowing full well that they can change and swap what they don’t need for what they absolutely need. The Ara will be the ultimate configurable device, and probably the only smartphone you will ever need.