Get ready for the modular smartphone. At its Project Ara Developer Conference on Tuesday, Google announced that the first version of the device is scheduled to go on sale next January for about $50.

That's the expected price and sale date for the endoskeleton, the framework that will provide such basic functionality as a screen, a power supply and connectivity to the sections holding the modular components.

The endo, as its nicknamed, will first be offered in only a gray color, so that more colorful modules can visually define the unit. The modules will contain the specific add-on functionality, allowing every owner to customize their own set of unique attributes.

'Functional,' Not Yet 'Functioning'

But the first public demonstration of the Ara phone at the Developer Conference did not go as smoothly as planned. The screen of the only available prototype had reportedly been damaged the day before, and the phone wouldn't boot.

Ross Rubin, principal analyst with industry research firm Reticle Research, pointed out to us that Google said the prototype was "functional," but not yet "functioning." The distinction, apparently, was that the unit could perform some but not all functions.

He said that, when Ara does launch, it "will not be like launching a new smartphone," in which the device and some of the app ecosystem is available. "The full value proposition will not be happening on Day One," Rubin added.

Rubin noted that the main point is to have "a rich ecosystem of modules," but that ecosystem is not expected to be available at launch time. He expects Google "will produce a partner list of companies" by launch time that have created or are creating modules, which will help prime the pump for an ecosystem in which modules are also created by small companies or individual developers.

No Driver Support Yet

At the conference, held at the Computer History Museum in Santa Clara, Calif., Ara project leader Paul Eremenko admitted to the gathered crowd of about 200 that Google's open-source operating system Relevant Products/Services, Android, does not currently support the drivers required for modules.

Those drivers, able to support mix-and-match hardware components, are not expected to be ready until December. By May of this year, power bus support is scheduled to be completed, with most system functions by September, and carrier certification Relevant Products/Services, regulatory approval and after-market support by November. A second developers' conference will be held in midsummer, and another one in September.

Eremenko also said that the endo is expected to last for as long as six years, and the communication standard between modules will be the UniPro standard.

Last week, Google released a Module Developers Kit in advance of this conference, and a video was posted online giving a look at the current state of Project Ara. Originally part of Motorola Mobility, Project Ara was retained by Google as part of its Advanced Technology and Projects group when it sold Motorola to Lenovo earlier this year.