The drawbacks of 3D printing still largely outweigh the benefits. Fabricators like the Makerbot Replicator and Printrbot Metal Plus are prohibitively expensive for most, and aren’t entirely without limitations of their own. But the past few years have seen an unprecedented level of ingenuity in the space, from diagrams for usable firearms to edible indulgences. As 3D printers shrink in size and drop in price, it’s not inconceivable that many of the smaller goods we use on a daily basis may one day become printable. That’s a vision of the future OwnFone, makers of the self-styled “world’s simplest mobile phone,” is betting on.
The eponymous OwnFone launched in Europe more than two years ago, but the startup has loftier ambitions for its second generation model. The Mark 2 OwnFone, now up for backing on Kickstarter, stands out in a panoply of loftily conceived crowdfunding projects for its comparatively grounded conceit: a stripped-down, partially 3D-printed phone. The device is, given the constraints of 3D printers, necessarily simple – the OwnFone lacks a screen, text, and internet – but it delivers on the core promise. OwnFone says the Mark 2 works on 2G networks in the United States and Europe, and is nearly endlessly customizable.
Each Mark 2 phone begins with what OwnFone calls a “Seed.” Seeds contain the electronics required to place calls: radios, 2 – 12 primary buttons, and a battery. The simplest model requires only a 2D, inkjet-printed front and back skin and optional 3D protective shell, while the Development Kit extends personalization even further. With an off-the-shelf 3D printer, you can print Seed bodies from specialist filaments, such as wood or glow-in-the-dark.
Not everyone owns a 3D printer, of course. For those backers, OwnFone will happily customize a model to spec through its FoneBuilder application. Custom-printed Mark 2 phones will retain, like their predecessors, add-ons for Braille and raised text.
Mark 2 pricing on Kickstarter starts at a reasonable $100. Additions like a bio-friendly case will add $20, while the 2D PrintFone and 3D PrintFone start at $150 and $180, respectively. Every model is SIM-swappable, and should the Kickstarter meet its $200,000 goal in 11 days, OwnFone plans to begin shipping to backers in July.