Several companies in the past have tried to create modular smartphones so individual components that become obsolete can be periodically upgraded without having to change the whole device. None have been successful so far, with the most epic fail coming from Google’s Project Ara, which was disbanded last year. Facebook has apparently chosen to carry the torch forward with a modular device of its own, according to reports.
The mysteriously named Building 8 is where Facebook houses its hardware lab. But it’s no ordinary lab. This is where projects like mind-typing and language recognition by the skin are being developed. That’s where the modular device is also being developed.
Though all clues point to a new type of modular smartphone, little is known about the purpose of the actual device. The Facebook patent that revealed this nugget of information talks about millions of devices being connected to a server that updates the software when new modules are added.
It looks like it could also be a smartphone, but that might not be its primary role. From the patent, it seems like it could be a smart speaker type of device – like a portable Amazon Echo that you carry around in your pocket. Not much is known about the types of modules supported, but the drawing clearly shows a large speaker that almost occupies half the device’s height.
It’s not surprising that Facebook is leveraging its AI capabilities and Oculus experience in this manner. Today’s tech companies are well aware of the need to create an ecosystem for their users so they never have to go anywhere else.
Google has built this with the many services around its core search engine; Apple is now trying to do the same around iPhone usage, using Apple Music and Apple Pay as the building blocks; Microsoft is also creating an ecosystem of software and hardware around its core offering – Windows.
Whether or not this patent of Facebook’s will even evolve into a physical product on the market is irrelevant at this point. Even if they’re as far ahead as the prototype stage, it could be months, if not years, for a consumer device to materialize.