Dec 9, 2016

How Customization Is Shaping Technology

Japanese mobile provider SoftBank has announced that it is releasing two customized Star Wars phones ahead of this December’s release of the new Star Wars spinoff, "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story." The Sharp-manufactured phones will come in a black Dark Side Edition and a white Light Side Edition. SoftBank’s Star Wars phones illustrate a trend towards customized products that is transforming technology in the smartphone industry as well as other industries. Here’s a look at a few of the ways customization is catching on.

Modular Smartphones

One way customization is influencing technology is the emergence of modular smartphones. The concept of a modular smartphone is that individual parts of the phone can be removed and switched to add functionality as needed without the need to purchase a new device. Google began working on a modular smartphone project in 2011 under the aegis of Project Ara, which envisioned a phone with customizable processors, batteries, displays and cameras.

Google abandoned the project this year, but other companies have continued to move forward with modular smartphones. This year saw the release of the LG G5, which allows modular components to be inserted by removing the phone’s chin and battery and plugging the battery into an accessory. Components introduced with the launch included modular audio enhancement and camera grip accessories.

Customized Computers

The concept of modular smartphones was inspired by customized computers, something PC enthusiasts have been building for decades. Hardcore computer users often assemble computers from scratch by piecing together motherboards, power supply units, cases, monitors, keyboards and other components. Gaming enthusiasts often customize their computers by upgrading their graphics cards for a better user experience.

While this may sound intimidating to the non-tech user, kits are available to help teach children how to assemble their own computers from component parts. For instance, Kano makes kits that anyone can use to build and code computers for around $150. For those who want customized computers without having to build them, providers such as Puget Systems will help you assemble a computer from parts you select, with specialized components such as high-quality fans to keep noise down to a minimum. Puget also makes specialized computers for heavy graphics users, video editors and 3-D designers, along with pre-built computers and base systems that users can tweak as desired.

3-D Printing

3-D printing is one of the most revolutionary technologies impacting customization. Whereas traditional manufacturing works from a physical mold, 3-D printing produces physical objects from a digital blueprint that can be used to create a mold, prototype or product. This allows for a greater range of design flexibility, since the digital model can take on any three-dimensional shape the designer can conceive. 3-D printing also can employ a greater range of materials than traditional manufacturing, with the same printer able to create objects from plastic, metal, ceramic, paper and even biomaterials.

3-D printing is being applied to a wide range of customized products, from personalized jewelry to customized smartphone cases. One industry that has already felt the impact of 3-D printing in a major way is the shoe industry, where top brands such as Nike and Adidas are offering customers the opportunity to go online to select from a variety of customized designs. In the future, as 3-D printers drop in price, shoe manufacturers expect that customers will be able to print their own customized shoes right at home. 3-D printing is also making a major impact on the healthcare industry, where the flexibility of digital design is providing patients with customized prosthetics, implants and even skin for burn victims.

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