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Google vs. MakerBot : Who Will Rule the Custom Phone Market?

on Aug 22 2014 , 06:00:07

One of the coolest aspects of 3D printing is customization. It enables us to no longer be defined and limited by big-name designers, manufacturers or marketing gurus. Unless we want to spend more money on a bespoke item, we are usually limited to a specific selection of toys, clothes, shoes, gadgets, accessories… you name it. 3D printing takes that choice and puts it right in our hands. Yes, its current capabilities are limiting in themselves, but essentially we can almost instantaneously create something in the shape and style of our choice.

Google gurus have caught on to this and decided to make something already customizable even more so with 3D printing. The Project Ara is Google’s initiative to develop an open-hardware phone made out of 3D printed puzzle-piece-like interchangeable modules. Each module has a specific function. The idea is that you could have one module with a key fob, for example, and another with a camera. You could then interchange one for the other depending on your current needs.

A Project Ara prototype. Source: PC World

A Project Ara prototype. Source: PC World

While Google takes the concept of customizing your phone and completely blows it out the park, 3D printer manufacturer MakerBot’s idea is a little closer to home. The company announced on Wednesday that it has added personalized phone case maker Fraemes’ app to its developer program. Fraemes allows designers to sell unique 3D printed iPhone case creations through its platform and also lets users have cases tailor made. The new partnership will ensure a seamless integration of the Frames app with a MakerBot Replicator desktop 3D printer. Don’t have a printer? Not to worry. MakerBot is also providing a custom-made Fraeme service for customers at its retail stores.

Source: MakerBot

Source: MakerBot

MakerBot CEO Bre Pettis noted that phone cases are one of the most popular items to 3D print, prompting news outlets to suggest the partnership was created to garner further consumer-based interest in 3D printing.

“We are excited to partner with Fraemes as one of our approved developers and offer 3D printable, customizable and personalized iPhone cases,” said Pettis. “Phone cases are always one of the most popular items to 3D print and now with the MakerBot-ready app Fraemes, 3D printing customers can easily and simply customize iPhones cases – with no design experience necessary.”

[Related: Makerbot Replicator 2 Review]

Is MakerBot’s new Fraeme app a potential competitor to Google’s Project Ara? Probably not. Google’s idea is based around that of a customizable phone, period, while MakerBot’s is based on customizable phone decor. Google’s phone, once materialized, will also be available to anyone whereas MakerBot Fraemes are currently designed specifically for iPhone users. MakerBot’s new partnership may however spark further interest in 3D printing as a consumer technology.

Perhaps when Google’s long awaited phone arrives, Fraeme can design customizable cases for the customizable phone. Now wouldn’t that be something.

Update: The Ara phone is set to be released at the end of September.

Shanie Phillips is a originally from the UK, but has spent many years in Singapore, the US and now Israel. In addition to writing for Inside3DP she writes for several news and innovation sites.

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