Facebook patents a modular device that would mean cheap future upgrades

facebook stories on desktop tested sign
Panithan Fakseemuang / 123RF
Tired of replacing your gadgets every few years? Facebook patented a potential solution. In a patent approved on Thursday, Facebook describes a modular “electromagnetic device” that could extend the life cycle of the traditionally closed system gadgets. While it is unclear exactly what the device is or if the company is continuing to develop the idea, the Facebook modular smartphone (or multi-function device) is designed to help eliminate the waste and expense of updating electronics.

The patent doesn’t describe the device as a smartphone exactly, though the list of modules includes hardware to give the device the functionality of a phone, along with a speaker, microphone, touch display and GPS. Essentially, the device’s function depends on exactly what modules are used. Combining an internet module and a speaker module would turn the system into a radio for streaming music online, for example. The patent also suggests a few Alexa-like features and the group behind the development, Facebook’s Building 8, is believed to have a focus on camera and machine learning, according to Business Insider.

The patent is actually a result of the social media platform acquiring Nascent Objects in 2016, a startup that created modular gadgets — or at least the prototypes for one — using 3D printing. The patent names four Facebook employees that worked for Nascent Objects prior to the acquisition, now working inside Facebook’s Building 8 hardware development team.

While it is unclear if calling the device a “smartphone” is entirely accurate, the patent is not the first attempt at modular devices. Project Ara was a modular smartphone made by Google, but the development was eventually halted. Motorola’s Moto Z is modular, but unlike Ara and Facebook’s patent, the Moto Z looks like a typical smartphone, just with add-ons that go on the back. Cinema camera company Red also recently patented a modular smartphone system.

The main idea behind Facebook’s patent is to eliminate the waste and expense of replacing the device entirely, with the ability to replace individual components. “Typically, the hardware components included in the consumer electronics that are considered ‘outdated’ are still usable,” the patent says. “However, the hardware components can no longer be re-used since consumer electronics are designed as closed systems. From a consumer prospective, the life cycle of conventional consumer electronics is expensive and wasteful.”

Like all patents, the existence of the documentation does not mean that the tech will actually come to life, or even that Facebook is still continuing to develop the idea.

Mobile

Leaked ZTE concept phones are crazy, possibly fake, and totally worth seeing

Renders of what may be ZTE concept phones may show how the manufacturer could avoid using the notch on future devices. They're crazy -- and maybe not even real -- but they're definitely worth looking at.
Mobile

Rooting your Android device is risky. Do it right with our handy guide

Wondering whether to root your Android smartphone or stick with stock Android? Perhaps you’ve decided to do it and you just need to know how? Here, you'll find an explanation and a quick guide on how to root Android devices.
Mobile

Here's where you can pre-order the Moto G7 Power and its massive battery

After a number of leaks and rumors, the Motorola Moto G7, Moto G7 Play, and Moto G7 Power are finally here. The devices represent quite a spec bump over the previous-generation Moto G6 phones, yet still come at a reasonable price.
Computing

Grab a terabyte of storage at a discount with Amazon’s Samsung T5 SSD deal

In need of a portable external storage device? You can get a terabyte of storage at a discount for a limited time. Amazon is offering a discount on Samsung's lightweight T5 SSD of nearly 30 percent off of its original price of $250.
Mobile

Does this video show off the Huawei P30 Pro's impressive camera suite?

The Huawei P30 Pro will be announced on March 26. It has already started to leak ahead of this date, and expectations are high that the company will improve even further on the P20 Pro's camera.
Home Theater

Apple’s new AirPods bring only minor updates to the much-loved originals

Apple has announced its new AirPods, the much-anticipated follow-up to Apple's wildly popular AirPods. With optional wireless charging and hands-free Siri, it's a minor update, but a welcome one.
Wearables

Spring is here, and Apple’s beautiful new Watch bands will help you celebrate

Apple knows that seasons matter in the fashion world, and has refreshed its most popular Apple Watch bands to celebrate the arrival of spring. See them all, including our new favorite teal versions, here.
Home Theater

Here are some common AirPods problems, and how to fix them

Apple’s AirPods are among the best fully wireless earbuds we’ve seen, but they’re not perfect. If you’re having trouble, take a look at our guide to the most common problems and what you can do to fix them.
Mobile

Google Fi: Phones, plans, pricing, perks, and more explained

Google's wireless service, formerly Project Fi, now goes by the name of Google Fi, and it's now compatible with a majority of Android phones, as well as iPhones. Here's everything you need to know about Google Fi.
Mobile

Google hit with another fine by the EU, this time for $1.7 billion

Google has been fined for the third time by the EU, this time for breaching antitrust laws by requiring third-party websites using its search function to prioritize its ads over competitors.
Deals

Get your hands (and ears) on Apple’s new AirPods — here’s where to find them

Apple's new AirPods with wireless charging are the latest version of the much-loved wireless earbuds. Unfortunately, they aren't widely available yet. Here's where you can find them right now, and where they will show up soon.
Mobile

You can now use the innovative Red Hydrogen One on Google Fi

The Red Hydrogen One was first announced in 2017 and has been delayed a few times since then. Now, the Red Hydrogen One is finally available, featuring a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, 6GB of RAM, and 128GB of storage.
Mobile

Apple’s AirPower wireless charging mat may be coming soon

At its September event in 2017, Apple unveiled the AirPower, a new wireless charging mat that will allow you to charge multiple devices at one time. It has not yet been released. Here's everything we know about the device so far.
Deals

The best Apple AirPods alternatives for Android, Windows, and iOS devices

Apple AirPods might be new and improved, but they aren't the only game in town. Other makers are offering their own truly wireless earbuds, with attractive features. These are the best AirPod alternatives on the market today.