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Is Facebook making a modular smartphone?

Published Jul 21st, 2017 6:50AM EDT
Facebook Modular Smartphone
Image: Gombert/Epa/REX/Shutterstock

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Modular smartphones sound great on paper. They’re devices that would significantly outlive traditional handsets, as the user would be able to upgrade the hardware by simply swapping the old parts with newer one. They’re also devices that would let the user customize a phone to meet his or her preferences. You could add extra batteries or sensors and better camera.

In practice, nobody was able to pull off this smartphone miracle. Google’s Project Ara is one of the most prominent failures, although there are a few other modular smartphone projects that failed to get any meaningful traction.

Can Facebook change any of that? 

The giant social network isn’t ready to announce anything just yet, but Business Insider discovered a new Facebook patent that describes modular devices.

They’re “modular electromechanical devices,” therefore not smartphones. But they’re devices that could incorporate a variety of parts including speakers, microphones, touch display, GPS, and even function as a phone. However, an image from the patent shows a device that looks nothing like a smartphone:

Image source: Facebook via USPTO

The patent may just as easily describe technology to build a modular smart speaker for the home that would compete against Amazon’s Echo or Google Home.

Business Insider notes that the authors of the patent come from Facebook’s Building 8 lab that’s working on futuristic projects. Former Apple, Google, and Motorola employees work at Building 8, including former Project Ara team members.

These unnamed Facebook devices could be connected to a server and loaded with different software based on the type of components they contain.

The last time Facebook tried to make a phone it was a regular device, but it wasn’t a Facebook creation. The social network partnered up with HTC for that handset, but the project turned out to be a complete failure.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.