Puerto Rico’s thriving and diverse mobile device user base and presence of international wireless carriers appears to have been the key factors to convincing one of the world’s largest technology developers, Google Inc., to launch a smartphone pilot program that could thrust the island into the international spotlight.
On Wednesday, Google announced it had chosen Puerto Rico to launch its “Project Ara” initiative, which calls for developing its modular smartphone components and applications. Google has partnered with local carriers Claro and Open Mobile to roll out the initiative during the latter half of this year.
“Project Ara is a development effort to create a modular hardware ecosystem —rivaling mobile apps in the pace and level of innovation — around smartphones, with the goal of delivering the mobile Internet to the next 5 billion people,” Google Inc. said. “Put another way, Project Ara aims to enable users to create a modular smartphone that is precisely tailored to their functional and aesthetic preferences.”
Once commercialized, Ara smartphone users will be able to buy a metal frame and populate it with “modules” that fit like puzzle pieces to make their device look and operate exactly as they need. Ara devices will run on the Android operating system, the company said.
For Puerto Rico, serving as the “lab” for this project represents a “valuable opportunity to expose the island to the technological sector on an international level and opens doors to develop important partnerships,” said Giancarlo González, Puerto Rico’s chief information officer, during a presentation of the Ara project in California.
“It also opens the door to generate interest from other companies related to this sector to consider the island to develop their projects and manufacture their products,” González said. “Furthermore, our programmers can now use the platform available through this pilot plan to develop modules and applications with high potential in various sectors.”
During the event, Google officials described Puerto Rico as being “mobile first,” noting that more than 75 percent of all Internet access in Puerto Rico is obtained through mobile devices.
“They are at the leading edge of a global trend,” Google executives said. “The carrier landscape is diverse and competitive with U.S., Latin American, and local carriers. As a U.S. territory, Puerto Rico is under [Federal Communications Commission] jurisdiction so we would continue our work with the FCC on a regulatory approach for Ara.”
Project Ara falls under Google’s Advanced Technology & Projects, known as ATAP, group that aims to create an open modular smartphone platform. The University of Puerto Rico has joined the ATAP group to provide research support.
“We are honored by Google’s vote of confidence and are looking forward to partnering with the ATAP group in order to contribute to the success of Project Ara in the Puerto Rico market pilot,” Claro President Enrique Ortiz de Montellano said.
Meanwhile, Josué González, marketing director for Open Mobile, said “This is certainly great news for our customers and for all Puerto Rico as we will be the first in the world to experience this new platform of the future.”
On Wednesday, Puerto Rico government officials confirmed that local programmers are already in New York to receive training to participate in the pilot program.
As part of the project, Google will roll out mobile, “food truck”- type stores to allow customers to check out and purchase the devices.