Mass customization is more than a choice of skins for an iPod or a personalized logo for a Toyota Scion. In a bid to create an active community around OpenMoko, the mobile phone’s Taiwanese manufacturer first published its software. This allowed developers to tweak it as they wished. Releasing open-source software is fairly common these days. However, OpenMoko broke new ground when it published the 3D drafting files for the phone’s case. The latter move lets anyone who knows how to work with CAD alter the case’s design.
By releasing the software and case design files, OpenMoko hopes to generate a passionate community of developers who will create a lengthy list of add-on applications for the phone, as well as innovative designs for its housing. The result will be features and design options that no phone manufacturer could hope to create on its own. By going well beyond the norms of mass customization, the company will also jump start a cottage industry of independent customizers for its phones.
The takeaway here is threefold. Firstly, if you’re so inclined, here’s a ripe opportunity to enter the mobile phone manufacturing business on the cheap. Secondly, OpenMoko’s business model—namely open-sourcing software and hardware files—is one that other start-ups and established manufacturers might well emulate. The products might just as easily be alarm clocks or toaster ovens. And, finally, the ease with which phone cases can be created using 3D printers heralds a day when many products will be produced on the spot, tailored inside and out to a customer’s preferences. Someday a printer vending machine might even let consumers choose a product design and have it built within minutes. When that happens, we’ll be sure to let you know ;-) (Related: Build your own mobile phone — New phone company, made in Silicon Valley — Affordable phones, made to order.)