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?
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:
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.