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New Xiaomi patent suggests modular phones aren't dead just yet

The three-piece design showcases Xiaomi's possible modular phone intentions.

Published onMay 18, 2021

Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra module
Eric Zeman / Android Authority
  • A new patent filing suggests that Xiaomi could be working on a modular smartphone.
  • The device is split into three distinct parts and slots together using a sliding system.
  • Each module houses a key part of the smartphone.

Modular smartphones have been a pipe dream for many consumers and OEMs, but only a few have released tangible devices. Now, according to a new patent filing, Xiaomi may be the latest to envision a modular device.

The patent, filed by Xiaomi to the USPTO (h/t LetsGoDigital), envisions a smartphone with three distinct pieces. Each module houses a different portion of the smartphone and connects to each other through a sliding rail system.

The camera array and key circuit boards are housed in the top module, while the battery sits in the middle module. The bottom module houses I/O and a speaker and completes the traditional smartphone shape. At least two of these modules contain the main display. The device appears to be a traditional smartphone with minimal seams when all three parts are connected.

Are modular smartphones back?

Modular smartphones are not new, but none have really made a lasting impact on smartphone design.

Some seven years ago, Google’s Project Ara suggested that modular smartphones may have a place in the future, but the project ultimately faded away. More practical examples include the LG G5 which allowed users to slot in additional modules from the phone’s bottom edge. More recently, the Fairphone 3 showcased how modular design can be beneficial for repairs and the longevity of a device. Motorola’s Moto Mods system was arguably the biggest success in this space, allowing users to easily pop on additional rear panels that add functionality. Importantly, Motorola’s phones were fully operational even without these attached.

What do you think of Xiaomi's modular smartphone design?

462 votes

Xiaomi’s patent doesn’t guarantee a future modular smartphone from the firm. The company regularly lays claims to designs as demonstrated by previous patents. However, the design does have some merit.

It would make for an easily upgradable smartphone system, allowing users to swap out more capable cameras and SoC modules without purchasing entirely new devices. The patent suggests something similar, with vertical camera module and square camera module designs on display. Of course, the design does have its drawbacks. To replace a camera module, you’ll have to replace the SoC and likely the storage, too. Additionally, phones with movable parts are more at risk of damage.

It’s unclear if we’ll ever see modular smartphones from the likes of Xiaomi. But it’s interesting that even in a world of foldables and other innovations, the firm doesn’t think the concept is dead just yet. What do you think of Xiaomi’s modular smartphone design? Be sure to vote in our poll above!

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