Semi-Open Source Products?

Semi-Open Source Products?Everyone knows the benefits of open source software and the evolution of a software program through community participation and improvement, but what about hardware?

Last year, HexBright, an open source flashlight and a Kickstarter project owned by Christian Carlberg, scored more than $250,000 in pledges. Although it’s not actually open source hardware, but instead, the source code for the flashlight is open source. This allows endless variations in flashlight sequences and piqued the interest of more than 3,100 backers.

So there’s open source, and there’s not… what about semi-open source?

In creating the MilliMount — a smartphone windshield and tripod mount also funded on Kickstarter — design files have been shared with a small group of beta designers on some of the features to enable creators to make custom accessories. In a sense, it’s open source, but not to the degree that the entire design of the MilliMount is available. The website where the MilliMount will be sold will also be used as a marketplace where would-be creators of MilliMount accessories can share or sell their creations. This can be an easy way to incentivize people that have a specific need for mounting their smartphones to buy the MilliMount and later create accessories to fit the need. The creator can then share or sell their idea on the MilliMount site for others with a similar need. Think about the iPhone, and the countless apps and accessories built and developed around it. Deciding between an iPhone and an Android might boil down to not just the phone itself, but the ability to expand upon and customize.

Perhaps this will become the norm in product development, whether it’s software or hardware, where a product evolves and grows more organically directly by its consumers.

We’ve already seen some examples of this in the Kickstarter projects above, but now, a major manufacturer is opening the doors to its design lab.

Nokia announced the availability of a 3D printing development kit, allowing anyone with access to a 3D printer the ability to print a shell for the Nokia Lumia 820. Why would anyone want to do this? Look at your phone… do you have the same case as everyone else with the same phone? Many of you might say “no.” So then, why did you pick your particular case? Maybe it was the kickstand or perhaps it had a clip for holding cards and cash. Maybe it simply matched the color of your car. In any case — pun intended — your personal choice for the appearance of your phone is no longer limited to what you see on store shelves or online. The look and functionally of your phone case is limited by your creativity. With a little bit of CAD experience, enhancements can be made. Do you use the GPS feature of your Nokia? Maybe a GPS mount can be designed. What about using the Nokia as a camcorder? A mount can be designed for use on a tripod; these are just two examples that are possible with Nokia’s latest move.

What company is next? Since 3D printing is becoming more accessible, the next could make Nokia announcement old news very soon!

Randy Ganacias is a product designer and the design principal at Spatial Studios. His recent project, the MilliMount, was successfully funded on Kickstarter and is the subject of his webcasts, which educate viewers on designing and prototyping ideas.