Would you use a 3D-printed phone with no apps?

The minimalist in me is intrigued

We spend hours on our smartphones. We spend too much time on them at night. We try to make the boring bus journey more productive by checking our emails, reading the news, doing some shopping, and tweeting something sarcastic. I love technology and the positive ways smartphones have changed our lives, but some people are also worried that our behaviours are being changed for the worse. Maybe we’re becoming addicted, overstimulated, and unfocused.

Alter Ego Architects, a Serbian design studio, has a phone design they think could improve our lives for those very reasons. They feel that we’re spending hours on our phones trying to be productive and fit more into our day but that this behaviour is actually making us less focused. Their solution is a 3D-printed mobile phone. It’s only a concept right now but they intend to release a functioning product in 2017. Notice I said mobile, not smart. Their phone would simply be for calls and texts, with no advanced menus or apps. The whole point of this phone is to change our behaviour and save us all from becoming addicted zombies, assuming we need saving.

I imagine some of you are put off by the simplicity, especially as the newest phones are full of novel features that we spend much of our time geeking out over. But there’s something about the simplicity that interests me. It’s not just the minimalist design but the behavioural changes that could result from using such a device. In my review for the new Moto 360, I wrote about how I like smartwatches because they change my phone behaviour. I check my phone a lot less when I’m wearing the Moto 360. Would I like to go even further and ditch smartphones altogether? I’m not so sure, but I am listening. I like the idea of breaking free but I still feel that smartphones can improve our lives.

Image © Alter Ego Architects

The screen uses e-ink like what you see on the Kindle e-reader or Pebble watch, which means the battery will last a very long time (screens are the biggest drain on smartphone batteries). Personally, I think this is the coolest feature if not the minimalist design itself. The designers say their phone would be perfect for children or the elderly, even if they own a smartphone. It would make the perfect emergency phone with its long battery life.

The e-ink screen and decision to only use numbers and symbols means the device is immediately international. “It will be the first phone ever built without language barriers”, said the designers. To reflect the use of symbols and the international nature of the concept, they named the phone “O”. You can decide what that actually is. The letter “O”? A circle? A ball? How you pronounce it will depend on where you’re from and that’s what the designers want. I don’t think that will help their marketing of the product but I guess they’re trying to make a statement.

When it hits the market next year, it should be very cheap due to the lack of features and the 3D-printed production. I can see some people picking this up not to replace their smartphone but to use as a great emergency backup. You’ve run out of battery on your main phone but you can still make important calls from your trusty e-ink backup. I’m not against smartphone technology. As I write this I’m surrounded by various tech items that would likely upset the team at Alter Ego Architects. However, I am intrigued by the minimalist design and would definitely give it a go. Could I survive without a smartphone though? Maybe we’ll find out next year.


Main image © Alter Ego Architects