Google scraps trial launch of Project Ara smartphones in Puerto Rico

The search giant says it's "recalculating" its strategy for its effort to create phones with interchangeable parts.

Richard Nieva Former senior reporter
Richard Nieva was a senior reporter for CNET News, focusing on Google and Yahoo. He previously worked for PandoDaily and Fortune Magazine, and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, on CNNMoney.com and on CJR.org.
Richard Nieva
2 min read

Google says it won't test its Ara smartphones in Puerto Rico, as previously planned. Lynn La/CNET

Google's got a change of plans for its build-it-yourself smartphone initiative.

Project Ara, an effort to develop "modular" phones that you can put together piece by piece, will no longer launch in Puerto Rico, as previously planned, a Google spokeswoman confirmed.

The company said in January that Puerto Rico was the ideal test market because of its diverse population. The island has a good mix of smartphone and basic-phone owners, and 75 percent of Internet access takes place on mobile devices.

But the company is changing its strategy, though it provided little detail on the new plan. Google stressed, however, that it isn't shutting down the project. It also isn't abandoning eventual plans for Puerto Rico -- it just won't be the site of the test launch. It's unclear where the new market will be.

The project is Google's attempt to shake up how we buy our smartphones by utilizing interchangeable parts. That means you could choose a camera from one manufacturer, a display from another, and a processor from yet another hardware maker to build a personalized phone. When, say, the processor becomes outdated, you could swap it out for a new one. The company hopes Ara will speed up development and innovation in the separate components that make up a phone, as hardware makers begin to compete for real estate on a handset.

The shift comes as Google, the world's largest Internet search site, heads into a major transformation. The company said Monday that it is restructuring itself as a new entity called Alphabet, splitting up Google's core products like search and YouTube from more nascent efforts like driverless cars and smart contact lenses.

The Advanced Technology and Projects division, which developed Project Ara, will remain part of Google even after the reorganization.

Google has increasingly preached a message of cutting costs. The company's new chief financial officer, Ruth Porat, who will become CFO of Alphabet, said on a conference call in July that the company sought to curb expenses.

The Ara announcement came initially as a string of posts on its official Twitter account on Thursday. The company described the shift as a "market pilot re-route" and said it is just "recalculating" its approach.