Awesome Stuff: A Modular Phone For Makers

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We’ve talked before about the buzz around the possibly-coming modular phones of the future, but this week we’re looking at an entirely different animal: RePhone, an open-source modular phone kit for makers and tinkerers.

The Good

The basic idea of RePhone is that you can build your own mobile phone. At its heart is a core GSM module, to which you can attach a mini touchscreen, basic sensors, an NFC antenna, and other combinations of the various tiny attachment modules. They can be connected easily with FPC cables, attached to a breadboard, or soldered. Then you can take the assembled guts and build them into any kind of case you like, from a fold-up kraft paper shell made using special templates to something fancier like a custom 3D-printed casing.

Once it’s built, the RePhone can integrate with IFTTT (as many things do these days) and also has software libraries that hook into Arduino IDE, Lua and Javascript, and a high-level SDK for developing apps for the RePhone itself — all designed with a focus on learning, so novice coders can try their hand as readily as expert developers.

The Bad

While RePhone seems like an absolute treat for makers and hackers, I’m more dubious about the attempts to make it look appealing to average users who want a unique phone. Apart from the ability to print custom designs on the kraft paper casing template, which is neat but hardly a game-changer, I don’t think there’s much to attract regular people to the RePhone, and it won’t be replacing anyone’s iPhones or Galaxies anytime soon, nor should that be the expectation. But for those who want to get inside the guts of a smartphone and tinker around, it’s perfect.

The Things

But perhaps the most exciting aspect of RePhone is that it by no means has to be all about phones. The tiny, modular kit makes it really easy to give anything else cellular capabilities, and start building your own additions to the internet of things. That’s exciting, because as we see the internet of things grow, it’s vital that we keep enabling people to build things for it — otherwise it will evolve into nothing more than a network of locked-down, proprietary products from various gadget-makers. The interoperability with Arduino (and also Pebble watches) makes RePhone right at home in the new world of mobile makers, who will help define what the internet looks like as it continues to break free from traditional devices.

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