July 13, 2015

Soso and Project Ara

Since February of 2014, we’ve been working with Google on Project Ara. Ara is a modular phone platform created by Google’s Advanced Technologies and Projects group (ATAP). Their goal is to give consumers the power to build their own devices, to determine what they do, and how they look. They want to supply the next 5 billion people with smartphones.

This translates to some amazing real life situations. Imagine breaking your smartphone screen, and just sliding in a new one to fix it. Or your phone going dead and being able to pop in a charged up battery on the go. Or upgrading your phone’s camera by sliding in a better camera module.

All of these parts need a marketplace and an intuitive means of organization and navigation. Google came to us looking for a different perspective on user interface design. They asked us to design an interface that would allow Ara users to shop for new parts and try out different phone configurations. We worked closely with the team to devise novel ways of interacting with and keeping track of all your Ara parts.

Our role in the project evolved, and at different points, we worked on other UI design projects, consulted on branding and identity, and helped to guide the development of various design dimensions of the platform.

It was a great experience working with ATAP. They are a self-branded crew of pirates working on “epic shit”. The group has its roots in DARPA, where its founder was previously Director, and has developed an interesting working model.

A small core team at ATAP, initially around five people, devises a moon shot idea for which they have two years to create a large-scale proof of concept. To tackle their ambitious mission, they work with an extended network of performers (like us), specialists who design, engineer, and produce in close collaboration with the core ATAP team. This model allows them to stay nimble and to develop ideas at an unusually rapid pace, given the mammoth size of Google.

It’s been an exciting project to be a part of. I’m still amazed at what they accomplished in two short years. It was thrilling to see a working phone demonstrated at Google I/O last month. It gets more and more real by the day.

Since we’ve completed our work on the project, the Ara team has grown as they head to market in Puerto Rico next year. We’re excited to see how the platform takes shape and evolves, and looking forward to the day when we can buy our own Ara phones.