Project Ara Modular Phone Gray
The so-called "Gray Phone" will be the first modular smartphone to come from Google's Project Ara and will launch in January 2015.

The first build-it-yourself modular smartphone to come out of Google's Project Ara is scheduled for release in January 2015, according to the project's leader.

Paul Eremenko, Head of Project Ara at Google, made the announcement at the first Ara developer's conference yesterday while also revealing that the first device would be a simple grey phone.

"It's called the Grey Phone because it's meant to be drab grey to get people to customise it," said Eremenko. "A grey phone could be shrink-wrapped and something you could buy at your local convenience store.

"You fire up your grey phone, run the Ara configurator and start purchasing modules in the marketplace."

A device for developers

The idea behind the modular phone is to build an "open hardware ecosystem" that would open up the smartphone market both to developers and to new consumers in developing countries.

The basic exoskeleton provided by Google is set to cost only $50 (£30) and will only consist of a screen, battery, wifi module and processor. All other components, like cameras and speakers, will be left to companies and developers to produce.

If successful, Project Ara phones could fundamentally change the way that people use smartphones. Rather than a lifespan of around two years, Google hope that the Ara would last between five and six years as only the modules would need to be updated.

Not quite there

It may even be possible in the future for components to be produced individually by users on 3D printers. There are still a number of obstacles to be overcome, however, before future projections can be properly considered.

"We did crack the screen and the phone doesn't quite boot," Eremenko said when presenting an engineering prototype at the conference, while also revealing that the phone is not yet supported by Android.

"It's true that Android does not support dynamic hardware today. The good news is that we're Google."