Now this is cool: mobile maker Nokia has released 3D print files for one of its smartphones so owners of 3D printers can custom print their own removable shell. Nokia already sells different colour shells for the handset in question, the Lumia 820 — which has a removable backplate — along with shells that add wireless charging to the device or offer a bit more protection to standard plastic shells. But the company has decided to spice things up further by releasing a 3D template so people can print their own custom designs.
It’s calling this a 3DK for short — see what they did there? Writing in a blog post on Nokia Conversations, Nokia says: “We are going to release 3D templates, case specs, recommended materials and best practices — everything someone versed in 3D printing needs to print their own custom Lumia 820 case. We refer to these files and documents collectively as a 3D-printing Development Kit, or 3DK for short.”
The mechanical drawings for the shell are available for download here, here and here. Nokia claims it’s the first “major phone company” to release 3D templates for hardware. It’s certainly a bold move for a big corporate company to allow users to remix its design without any checks and balances on what they produce. But it’s also a savvy one — which recognises that building a community of engaged users necessitates giving up some control by giving people opportunities to get more involved in the creation process.
R&D is already something that, increasingly, does not just take place behind the closed, locked doors of corporate research labs. Witness the success of the online crowdfunding model — via sites such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo — where many projects take soundings from backers and incorporating their views into the final product.
Nokia’s mechanical drawings add to a growing pool of 3D templates up for grabs — from sites like 3D printer maker MakerBot‘s Thingiverse — where custom designs for all sorts of smartphone cases and docks can be found, often licensed for use under Creative Commons.
Nokia says it uses 3D printers internally for rapid prototyping of devices but envisages 3D printing having a much larger role to play in smartphone design in future. “In the future, I envision wildly more modular and customizable phones,” writes John Kneeland, a Nokia Community & Developer Marketing Manager, on the blog.
Kneeland speculates that Nokia could sell a printable phone template in future — allowing entrepreneurs to “build a local business on building phones precisely tailored to the needs of his or her local community”. “You want a waterproof, glow-in-the-dark phone with a bottle-opener and a solar charger? Someone can build it for you — or you can print it yourself!”