Microsoft also likes modular phones

 23 Sep 2011 - By Omar Yesid Mariño+

Usually, tech geeks love to disassemble and assemble things (well, sometimes they take apart gadgets that they can’t assemble again due to complexity). For some of them there is a need of knowing how things work and that need is really strong even with the most expensive gadgets; if you know enough of electronics, then seeing the deepest interior parts of  an electronic device is a satisfactory thing because you can figure out how this device can work as it is supposed to work. Many curious children feel this natural need too, and their toys don’t last more than a few days.

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Anyway, in the same manner that curious children can find exciting to have lego pieces to build their own creations, some people could find exciting the chance of building their own phone… yeah, their own modular phone. And some companies could be making steps to release this concept in the commercial market space. Very cool, huh?

Maybe inspired by the lego pieces, and the high functionality that can be found in smartphones nowadays,  Microsoft patented an interesting concept: A type of modular phone.

Sure, that is only a concept… an idea. And we know there are a lot of times when these patents are not developed at all. But, anyway, it’s at least interesting to know  a potential approach that the technology could take in the next few years (or, at the lowest level, the approach Microsoft could take to help to create upcoming smartphones ).

The Microsoft patent includes a smartphone with a slider design and exchangeable parts. In fact, the parts under the main screen could be replaced since the phone would have a “slot” for different “accessories” and complements. These accessories would be varied: A keyboard, an additional battery, a gamepad, or an additional touchscreen. And no doubt, if this concept is taken to the next level, there will be a much greater diversity of accessories that could be connected to modular phones.

Anyway, this is not the first intent to start a new wave of smartphones with modular parts: Modu, an Israeli mobile phone company, tried to implement a similar idea: A small and very compact phone that could be inserted into a variety of  “jackets” (a sort of module)… and each “jacket” had different features and functionalities. Unfortunately, the company was not successful and ceased operations in February 2011. However, some of its patents were acquired by Google… so, maybe that is not a completely crazy idea after all.

With Google and Microsoft interested in similar ideas, maybe there is another patent war coming soon. If we keep in mind that Microsoft is not a real smartphone maker, this seems another chapter of the patent absurdity we have these days. But, hopefully, this also could be the start of new products to benefit users in very interesting ways.

The MODU original idea

As said before, Modu was an Israeli company with a main objective: Releasing a product to the mobile market, but with a very different and revolutionary concept (the modular phones). Unfortunately, the implementation of this idea was carried out in an ineffective way and, on February, Modu representatives announced that they were going to cease operations.

Before that, there was a presentation in UK of a model implementing this modular concept, including accessories and several modules. You can see the video below to learn more about the original idea:

According to some reports, the Modu patents were acquired by Google at a price of $4.9 million.

New ways to use mobile phones

An interesting thing of the Microsoft patent is the possibility of using accessories in an autonomous way.  For example (check out the image below as reference), if the mobile phone is connected to a TV, then we could use an external accessory to control that TV. This way, phone makers will be able to launch accessories like remote controls, joysticks, game helmets, etc.

new smartphone uses

The options are endless. We think that the “slot” in a modular phone could become a sort of universal connector for a lot of devices, similar to the USB ports of a computer. For instance, you would be able to connect a portable printer to your phone in order to print those spontaneous pictures you captured. Of course, the printer would be manufactured by the same phone maker… or even printers from other manufacturers could be compatible if you install the appropriate “app” in your smartphone (a sort of driver).

Again, the options are endless.

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