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Google working on new way to attach parts to Project Ara smartphones

Google right now uses electric magnets for its build-it-yourself smartphone project. But it's testing out something that will work better.

Google said it's testing a new technology to make sure its Project Ara smartphones don't fall apart. Lynn La/CNET

Google earlier this week said it was delaying the launch of Project Ara, its initiative to let people build their phones from interchangeable parts.

Why? The company on Thursday said it's testing new hardware and software to make the project work better.

Google's Ara phones work by letting people snap together the separate components of the phone like Legos. They're held in place by what Google calls "electropermanent" magnets. But the company is now working on a system that won't rely on power to attach and detach the separate parts, said a Google spokeswoman.

Google didn't give much more detail about how the phone will work in the future, other than to say it is "testing a signature experience" to attach and detach the different parts.

Project Ara is Google's attempt to shake up how consumers buy smartphones and how manufacturers make them. Instead of buying a complete phone, like an iPhone 6 or a Samsung Galaxy S6, Google wants to let people buy the parts -- such as the camera, processor or screen -- separately and mix and match them as consumers please. The initiative is just one of many out-there projects -- like driverless cars or Wi-Fi balloons -- that Google has invested in as it looks to where future revenue will come from.

Google 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.

This announcement is just the latest setback for Project Ara. Last week, Google said the company was scrapping its test launch of the phones in Puerto Rico as previously planned. Earlier this week, Google said the launch would also be postponed until 2016 and that the team is looking for a test market in the US.

Correction, August 20 at 1:25 p.m. PT: An earlier version of this article said Google's Project Ara smartphones failed drop tests, citing a post on Twitter sent out by the company. Google on Thursday said it was meant as a joke, and there was no explicit drop test performed. "We were trying to be funny (#FacePalm)," a spokeswoman said.