Perhaps building our own phones isn't a far off dream after all

Anna Scantlin
Contributing Editor from Kansas City, MO
Published: May 5, 2013

It’s on days like this that make me realize I’m a huge nerd, which I'm totally okay with. I thoroughly enjoy catching up on all news tech-like, and the past few days have just happened to be a gold mine when it comes to perhaps one of the most life-changing inventions of our near future, the 3D printer.

While the 3D printer itself isn’t very new, the different ways that people plan to use them are. We’ve already found out that they can create medicine, different hobbyist projects, and even life-saving organs. It truly is an amazing product, and it’s becoming clear that the 3D printer in itself is becoming the microwave oven or television set of our time.  

Just a couple of hours ago I saw an article about how one company plans to use 3D printers to make automobiles that are “strong as steel, half the weight, and nearing production”. Even Jay Leno has been using 3D printers to make replacement automobile parts. Needless to say (but I’m going to say it anyway) I am amazed at the versatility of these printers. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would grow up to be able to see so many things become from mere printers.

Just this past Friday, Staples became the first U.S. retailer to begin selling the 3D Systems’ Cube Printer, which is available for $1,299. Although the product is only available online, the item is said to be available in select Staples stores near the end of June. The price may seem high for some, but for such a useful and revolutionary product it will probably continue to sell for high amounts until they become more mainstream (see previous mention of the microwave and the television for previous examples).

For now, the home 3D printer remains to be described as primarily a hobbyist gadget. What can you really get from purchasing one of these personal 3D printers from Staples? It comes with two dozen 3D design templates with more available for download online, but is it really worth $1,299? For hobbyists, perhaps. But don’t plan on creating any of those life-saving organs or cars from your own home just yet. This is really a very primal version of what can become of the 3D printer.

All of this news on these new-fangled 3D printers got me to do some serious thinking though. Sometime earlier this year Nokia had released templates to create 3D cases for its Nokia Lumia 820 devices, something that I thought was really cool of Nokia to do. Remembering this and seeing just how versatile 3D printers have come makes me realize that creating and designing our own smartphones isn’t such a far-fetched idea after all - in fact, I imagine it’s only a matter of time before it becomes the “norm” for us.

I’ve seen responses from several readers throughout my time here that one thing they would really like to see is the ability for us to make our own “it” phone - the perfect phone for our individual tastes. Could the 3D printer be the answer to that request? In my mind it would certainly make a good starting point. After all, some of the more expensive models are presumably able to make cars. How hard can it really be to make phones?

Since Nokia has already started utilizing the use of 3D printers for customers to create their own cases I’m sure other companies are, in some ways, following suit. I predict that soon templates for replacement phone parts will likely be introduced, and before you know it the term “developer” could very well mean two different things – those who develop apps and those who develop phones.

Now I’m not 3D printing genius, but the prospective thought that these printers could someday completely change the way we think of cell phone customization is pretty mind blowing to me. And, of course it’s probably still a ways off from actually happening – but certainly a lot closer than I would have ever anticipated up until now.

Readers, what are your thoughts on 3D printing and phones? Do you think that one day they could make phone customization and repairs easier, or do you have alternative views? Let me know what you think!

Images via Nokia, Cnet

Products mentioned