It has been more than four years since the introduction of the HTC First, otherwise known as the Facebook Phone. It ultimately flopped and since then we have not heard from Facebook about taking another stab at the hardware market, but never say never. A patent application filed by Facebook with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) outlines a "modular electromechanical device" with a processor module and other interchangeable parts.
"The modular electromechanical device includes a chassis and a plurality of functional modules that can be connected to the chassis," Facebook explains in its patent application. "Each module is associated with a different functionality. The functionality of the electromechanical device is defined base on various attributes including the functionality of the different functional modules that are connected to the electromechanical device, the sequence in which the different functional modules are connected to the electromechanical device, the specific attachment structures used to attach the functional modules to the electromechanical device, or a pattern of traces formed within the chassis."
Have you gone cross-eyed yet? The vague description does not really say exactly Facebook has in mind and while a modular smartphone like Google's Project Ara is not out of the question, the accompanying images appear a bit thick for a mobile phone. Have a look:
According to the patent application, the mystery device would consist of three main modules, one of which would be the processor and the other two labeled as "functional modules." These would connect to a built-in speaker, microphone, touchpad, GPS system, display screen, and thermometer.
While the above image seems thicker than a smartphone, it might not be to scale. One thing that is interesting to note is that several people that were part of Google's Project Ara team are now part of Facebook's Build 8 group, which is a consumer hardware lab. The four people named on the patent application are part of that group. They also have backgrounds working for Nascent Objects, a 3D printing startup that Facebook acquired in 2016.
Facebook is not commenting on the mystery object, though people familiar with the project told Business Insider that Building 8 is focused on developing cutting-edge camera and machine learning technology. It's conceivable Facebook is working on a high-tech smartphone or a portable smart speaker.
"Typically, the hardware components included in the consumer electronics that are considered 'outdated' are still usable," the patent application reads. "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."
Whatever it is, Facebook has been working on it (or conceiving it) for some time now. The patent application was originally filed in January of last year.