Last Friday the world looked up and nodded as the Woolworth’s of the mobile phone industry released 3D print designs for the body of a current mobile phone, the Lumina 820. Interesting, certainly. But hardly earth-shattering.
Not, at least, until Monday. When we all caught up with the implications.
Nokia says it wants to move away from global to local production. The phone casing is the easiest component to start this journey. However, the rest of the mobile can follow.
And once the economics work out (speculate away as to when that’ll be) whole phones will be built more cheaply in each individual market. And they’ll be a chance to customise for each location.
We know this is the way the world is going. The advent of 3D printing almost makes it a foregone conclusion. So with Nokia apparently out of the blocks first – and with Apple or Samsung rather unlikely to follow any time soon – will this be the idea that saves our favourite ’90s phone-maker?
Well, it’s certainly innovative. And Nokia needs to be that – in spades – to escape its death-spiral.
And this is a big but:
Is this the right kind of innovation from Finland?
Firstly, we don’t know when the economics of local printing will work. And it remains possible that, to a certain extent, they never will. Today, a printed hamburger would set you back $300,000.
Secondly, Nokia’s core issues are not related to its supply chain. What it lacks (or at least did until recently) is a decent smartphone people want to buy.
So it’s quite possible Nokia won’t be around when the local supply chain revolution kicks in.
But why then does the squirmy, excited feeling remain in the pit of our stomachs? Why is this a significant announcement?
Most importantly it shows that 3D printing is being taken seriously by those with enough capital to make a proper impact on the shape of the world. Nokia may be the first to announce such plans. But others – if not the other grown-ups of its own industry – will follow. Perhaps rather shortly?
More emotionally, this is Nokia showing that it can still think different. And have the courage to back a conviction. To mix a couple of clichéd metaphors – its back’s against the wall and that’s put fire in it’s belly.
And that’s a big deal. Many of us still have fond memories of phones that worked. That crashed so little you didn’t think of them as computers. All the while being utterly intuitive to use.
So what else does it have up its sleeve? Is there an advance in the pipeline that’ll steal market share? This felt impossible. Now? We’re not so sure.
And what does this say about the process of innovation? We all know the answer. But it’s still a surprise every time it’s illustrated so vividly:
Invention is born of necessity.
When things are working, you comfortably float on, not fixing it. Because ‘it’ ain’t broke.
Consider Apple. Can’t you just hear them in the boardroom? Those loyal to Jobs are, currently quite politely, reminding the assembled company that they haven’t invented a major new paradigm for three years. And that their lifeblood is inventing major new paradigms. So they’d better get that TV out into the marketplace. Quickly. And in ship-shape fashion.
But the others are feigning attention. Looking at the sales figures and wondering why anyone would be stupid enough to take a risk. Rome burns. They fiddle.
And all of us are guilty of that sometimes. To change our behaviour we need to change our context.
And Nokia’s context was changed. Substantially. Almost overnight. The only question – still mostly unanswered given the rope it has to hang itself – is how it reacts. Like Kodak or Yahoo!? Or like Apple before the iPod? For Apple, let us remind ourselves, was three-quarts dead. With one foot and a half in the grave.
Because if innovation is again taking the lead at Nokia, rumours of the Fin’s death might very well have been exaggerated.
They know better than us that the real local manufacturing revolution is probably a decade away. But they’re thinking long-term. And that has to give you confidence. The terminally ill don’t plan much.
Which, if you want one, is a Reason to Believe again.
But whatever you decide, one thing’s for sure. This soap opera of innovation and technology is highly entertaining. And it’ll keep on rolling.
According to seasoned future-gazer Ray Kurzweil: ”A kid in Africa, with a cell phone, has access to more intelligence than President Clinton did 15 years ago.”
The implications of that (fact?) are worthy of several weighty tomes. So we won’t cheapen it with homespun analysis. But to prove the point that the rate of acceleration is set to ‘unstoppable nosebleed’, hundreds of new things became possible for the first time this week.
Obviously this didn’t include Americans asking: ‘Please Mr President, can we build our very Death Star?’ And we’re not sure Quantum Time Crystals will get past the theoretical stage. But, as they say, if you don’t spot big gaps, you won’t make big innovations.
Which is probably how Star Trek’s medical tricorder came to be made real. More excitingly, could it be made out of transforming matter – tiny ‘robots’ that can turn into anything? Most things seem possible when gadgets are announced to be the new celebrities and any of us can go to the moon, even it it’ll cost us $750million a pop. And hell, what seems far-fetched when we’re building farms in city skies?
But this week the human collective also came over all down-to-earth, applying nosebleed acceleration to the more mundane problems of everyday life.
A simpler way to address every letter you send was launched in a postal supernova by Noel Gallager. And if the 3D printing services coming to the High Street send your stress levels rocketing – like every other printer we’ve ever used – at least you can monitor your rising anxiety on a phone, which may also have an app to find you a parking space.
Look carefully and you’ll find actual dollar signs in the eyes of the entrepreneurs responsible. As will Apple if it finally delivers it’s TV and creates a new category in the process which – contrary to our scepticism of last week – may actually be close at hand.
But not so the Kindle team. Nosebleed acceleration means that tablets are slated to slay eReaders. Meanwhile, others are predicting the demise of paper, the QWERTY keyboard and even phone numbers. Which made the prospect of a Great Payphone Revival sound even more unlikely.
And if some news was tinged with nostalgia, other developments started full-scale moral panics. There was downright distrust over the idea that your TV might start watching you as you’re watching it. And horrorshow headlines abounded over ‘evil’ canine clones running rampant in New York.
All proving that, in tech as well as life, there’s always ying for your yang. So while the UK Government announced a volunteer army of geeks to protect us from cyber threats, David Cameron and Boris Johnson want to spruce up Silicon Roundabout. Although KPMG seemed to be saying that much more needs to be done than that before the UK’s a proper tech hot spot.
True dat! But there’s no time to get depressed as we’ve got a batch of fabulous things to watch:
And with that, the nosebleed endeth. We’re just off to catch our breath. And find some tissues.
With all the Budget fuss still raging did anyone notice the Edge Tech announcement today? David Cameron and Boris Johnson want to spruce up Silicon Roundabout (Old Street). But KPMG seemed to be saying that much more needs to be done – the UK isn’t exactly a tech hotspot.
A view most of us here agree with?
So perhaps the Government needs to take some advice from innovation consultant Jeffrey Phillips. He pointed out that if you don’t spot big gaps, you won’t make big innovations. Might the gaps be bigger than Cameron and Johnson realise?
Maybe they just have information overload. Trusty future-gazer Ray Kurzweil reminded us that the rate of change is such that: “A kid in Africa with a cell phone has access to more intelligence than President Clinton did 15 years ago.”
If the sheer volume of stuff they have to understand is inducing stress, at least they can now monitor anxiety levels with a thumb pressed against their mobiles. Meanwhile, research is ongoing using real beating hearts grown in the lab. And doubtless it’ll result in wonderful treatments for stress-related conditions. But surely it’s better not to do the damage in the first place?
And if they’re dodging that bullet while relaxing with their Kindles, they might still feel a little lonely – current predictions are for tablets to slay eReaders.
Better to try the new Apple TV which – contrary to our scepticism of last week – may actually be close at hand. We’re sure it’ll be outrageously popular if it does reinvent the category. Maybe that’ll just stress Dave and Boris more through jealousy?
Anyways, after all that anxiety-ridden politicking, how about some lighter relief? Happily suck on these until we resume our – hopefully less politics-influenced – observations tomorrow: