Although Project Ara has been shelved, it seems Google has still not given up on modular smartphones, as a recently granted patent indicates that the company is pursuing something similar which apparently draws inspiration from the Motorola Moto Z phones and Modo Mods. Titled "Modular Device and Methods Therefor", the patent was filed in late 2018 and granted in January this year. Although the patent filing depicts a smartphone, Google says that the modular technology can extend to different portable devices, including tablets and laptops.
The patent illustrates a device that might not offer the same level of customization the Project Ara was aiming for, but it offers far more options than the Moto Z series does. The images accompanying the patent shows different modules that can be combined together to make a handset.
It appears that there is a main chassis that would house essential electronic components such as the SoC and battery which could attach to another upgradable module. The two modules will be held in place with a third module and the electronic components would be coupled with external ports. The main module seems to have something like magnetic contacts which will apparently allow users to attach components.
This will result in a device that would have a replaceable screen, SoC, sensors, and camera. In addition to allowing for the possibility of changing up the key components, such a design would enable users to add extras such an additional rear display, auxiliary battery, gaming joysticks, and more memory as well.
Certain modules, such as the camera ones, might even come with their own image processing units and this will free them of any limitations imposed by the phone's SoC. In short, the freedom to attach various electronic accessory modules will allow for a lot of flexibility. In fact, Google might even go a step further, as another patent titled "Modular Electronic Device" filed around the same time illustrates a modular electronic device into which multiple components can be fitted in and they can be controlled individually, without the device's operating system.
It goes without saying that big corporations like Google itself file a number of patents every year and not all of those are commercialized. However, the search giant certainly seems to be fascinated by the idea of modularity and it remains to be seen much it will dip its toes into the idea if it does end up pursuing it. It is unclear how many modules will be accepted by the device at one time but of course the higher the degree of modularity, the better.
A modular smartphone wouldn't just provide more flexibility to consumers, it would also reduce wastage as users wouldn't need to discard their whole device. However, over the years, the handful of modular handsets that have come out in the market didn't really get a stellar response so it remains to be seen if this idea is worth pursuing. It is also interesting to see that while most OEMs are scrambling to release a foldable handset, Google is dabbling with the idea of modularity.