Google taps Yezz as module provider for Project Ara

The Miami-based company will showcase its first modules compatible with Google's Project Ara during the Mobile World Congress show in Barcelona.

yezzdevelopingconcepts.jpg
These are sketches of the conceptual developments for modules by Yezz. DDM Brands

January has been a hectic month for Luis Sosa.

In a matter of days, the CEO of Miami-based DDM Brands (and co-founder of Yezz) traveled from his headquarters in Miami to a Google developers' conference in Mountain View, Calif., to yet another one in Singapore, taking some time to visit some business partners in Hong Kong.

The reason behind all the hustle? His company, which manufactures contract-free, affordable handsets under the Yezz brand, has been approached by Google to become one of the first manufacturers of modules for its Project Ara, an ambitious program which will let users build a personalized phone from a selection of snap-together elements.

The Project Ara modular smartphone originated from Google's Advanced Technology and Projects group, the California-based search engine's research and development brain trust. You'll build your phone from components you choose, each module a square of varying size that attaches to the phone with electro-permanent magnets.

"(Google) approached us, mainly because Yezz has been growing not only in Latin America, but also in the US and Europe," Sosa told CNET en Español, a sister site of CNET.com. "But there is more: Yezz is a product for the masses, and that is what Google is aiming at with Ara."

Founded in 2011, DDM Brands has focused mainly in the manufacturing of contract-free, double-SIM phones targeting emerging markets. The company sells several models under the Yezz brand, including the Android-based Andy and a recently launched Windows Phone called Billy (in honor of, ahem, Bill Gates).

Few companies are as enthusiastic about Google's Project Ara as Sosa's. "We are talking about a real transformation, here" he says. "I believe modular phones will transform the smartphone business in the same way apps transformed the world of smartphones."

While Project Ara is still in its early stages, Google has said it will launch a pilot project in Puerto Rico to test phones that will let people mix and match hardware parts, such as cameras or screens, and snap them together like Legos. The pilot will begin later this year, and the company will use the data to plan for a global launch. Furthermore, the company has talked about creating a virtual store, similar to Apple's App Store or Google's Play Store to showcase -- and sell -- the different modules designed under this project.

It is not yet clear what the modules will cost. In a dedicated FAQ page, Google has said it's much too early to tell. "We have set engineering and manufacturing goals for the bill-of-materials cost of a basic, entry-level Ara device to be in the $50-100 range," writes Google. "It's important to note that this is just the cost of the components and says nothing about how it will be priced -- it could be more or less than that (e.g., with a carrier contract.)"

In the end, says Google, it is expected that module developers will be able to set the prices for their modules sold in the Ara Module Marketplace, much like mobile app developers do in app stores today.

Google has not released a specific date for the Puerto Rico pilot, but Sosa and his team say they're ready for the challenge. In fact, says Sosa, Yezz has already manufactured "about 100" module prototypes from factories in the US and China, which will be showcasing them during the upcoming Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Yezz will also launch a dedicated website touting the collaboration, though for the moment it only features a countdown clock showing the time left until MWC.

Click here for CNET's full coverage of the 2015 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

Featured Video